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PC: Trespass

In 1997, trespass accounted for more deaths on railroads than any other
cause. Yes, train/vehicle crashes have declined to the point that they
are now only the number two cause of death on railroads.

Many comments suggest that railroads should trust the "good" trespassers
while shunning the "bad" trespassers. How do they tell the difference? If
I'm walking through the middle of a yard, how does the railroad know that
I'm just a harmless railfan. I could have a can of spray paint in my bag
for vandalism. I could have tools to bust into containers looking for
goodies. I could be one of the serial killers that roam the rails,
killing transients (and anyone else who gets in the way). Even if they
know I'm a railfan, how do they know I'm harmless? When's the last time
you saw a locomotive with the old style EMD builder's plates intact? Next
time you see a close-up of the UP E Units, note how metal tabs are welded
over the corners of the reproduction plates to make them railfan proof.
Or note how GE has eliminated the plate altogether in favor of stickers.

How many friendly employees have been ruined by rude railfans. I've seen
employees who will allow railfans to take specific pictures under
specific conditions in specific locations. Some conditions, that the
railfan may not know about, may make the situation unsafe. (The
employee's boss's boss in the area is a good example.) How many of us
know railfans who argue when told no? If I were a yard employee I
wouldn't risk my job or safety for railfans. If I were a yard employee, I
would have a very low opinion of railfans after having to deal with a few
who back-talked me. I've had employees give me the green light before.
Besides saying thank you, I make it a point to behave and to not over
stay my welcome.

A few years back I remember the closing of a popular photo spot. I
believe it was on the Santa Fe. The spot was on private property, but the
owners tolerated the railfans until some loud, drunks appeared on the
scene. They thought littering and drinking were necesary for train
watching. When told to tone it down or leave, they argued. Guess how soon
it took for a chain link fence to appear?

I'm not saying I've never stepped on railroad property without
permission, and I'm not saying that I never will in the future. However,
there are degrees of trespass. I know of one spot where a rail yard is
next to a public street, making an ideal photo location. I've stood at
the edge of the property many times taking photos with nary a peep from
the railroad. Was I a couple of feet on railroad property? I don't know.
I've had the local police check to see what I'm up to, because of
vandalism in the area; they left without incident when they saw that I
wasn't going into the yard. However, I've seen people go into the yard
(where cars are flat switched!). Guess how soon it takes for the police
to get called.

I've worked quite a bit on passenger trains. For various reasons I've
been in situations where I've had railfans try to do dangerous things for
photos. When I ask them to stop (as conductor) I frequently get a
protest. When I'm busy I now find it easier to just say no insted of
trying to ride herd on someone who justs wants a picture no matter what.

Liability releases are a nice idea. In other countries they work. In the
U.S. I'm not certain they would hold up in court if a railfan is injured.
Even if they did hold up, there is still someone dead or injured, not to
mention the operational disruption and legal expenses. Gone are the days
when someone would just chalk it up to bad luck when they are injured
doing something stupid. Now they hire lawyers. As a railfan I thought I
knew a lot. I probably did. However, working on railroads some has taught
me that often knowing a lot is not enough.

Finally, how necessary is trespassing? Yards are the most common area
that railfans want to enter. Why go to the danger? Everything in a yard
had to come in on a track that goes by public places, and will go back
out on a track that goes by public places. If there is something truly
unusual stored there, that is the time to ask for permission. If we don't
make ourselves unwelcome, we may be granted an infrequent visit. These
facilities are private property. I have no more right to demand entry,
than I do to break into a house to watch TV.

Keep remembering that every day one or two people are killed trespassing.
A good percentage of these are on CSX, NS, UP and BNSF because of their
size. It might not seem like a big problem from our end of things. But
remember how it looks to the front office man who sees these reports
every few days. Or how it looks to the conductor who has to pull what's
left of someone from under their train.

Let's not make more enemies at the railroads.

Bryan Turner

ps - Remember the hobo rule. If you are caught, but let go - LEAVE.
You've been lucky. And remember what it means if they tell you they don't
want to see you again, if they also give a wink.

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