Train track photos video
The family portrait at Easter is a tradition for Carmen Doherty.
She’s a professional photographer (based in Richmond), so the shots are intimate works of art, with everything working together: the pose, the light, the setting.
In earlier family portraits, the Dohertys stand on a railroad track, smiling and happy, a moment in time on their journey through life. It was a natural choice: Her toddler son was enraptured with trains, and it was a way to keep him entertained.
But Doherty came across information on just how dangerous it is to loll about on a railroad track, how trains can come up on you surprisingly fast, with deadly consequences, and how trains extend some three feet or more outward from the track, and how you can miss the lights, the warning horns and rumble until it’s too late.
“Why would I risk my family for a portrait?” she says.
Now, the family Easter portrait still has cool lines that reflect the Dohertys' progression through life, but it’s taken on a wooded path, not metal tracks.
If you Google railroad track portraits, you’ll find that rail lines are a popular setting for photos for folks across the world, from selfies to settings for professional shoots. Search for Richmond train track portraits and you’ll find at least a couple dozen photos of tweens, teens, young couples, high school seniors and college graduates.
The appeal of a trackside setting is obvious in its imagery of being on the move, traveling through life, and the contours and lines rails provide to the visual composition, says Doherty.
“I believe the appeal is related to the lines that the tracks produce within an image. When you look at photographs, there are natural lines in images whether it's the horizon, trees, streets, etc., and those help guide your eye around the image. When you add the tracks, they are easy leading lines and it guides your eyes to help make it an appealing image,” she says. “There are lots of other ways to accomplish this that don't have the dangers [posed by] railroad tracks," and aren't illegal.
The tracks are a fatal attraction, as evident in an uptick in fatalities involving trains and pedestrians, nationally and in Virginia. When it comes down to you versus 140 or more tons of locomotive, you lose every time.
Through Oct. 30 (the most recent date for which data is available), there were 18 fatalities last year involving trains in Virginia, the most in a year since 1996, when there also were 18 train-related deaths in the state, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
That’s tied for 10th-most in the nation for the year. By far, the most have occurred in California, which accounts for 133 fatalities this year, and there were 709 fatalities overall nationally through Oct. 30.
The most recent train-related fatality in the Richmond area occurred Dec. 2 in Petersburg when a teen, Henry De la Cruz, was struck by a freight train. Henry apparently was wearing ear buds at the time, according to police. The engineer was not charged.
Two men, Darrel Page and Clarence Alexander, were killed in July by a train in South Richmond when they attempted to cross the tracks. In March, a train struck and killed a man, Joshua McGraw, in Colonial Heights, and in April, a railroad worker, Kevin Eskew, was struck and killed by a train while working in a Richmond rail yard, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration.
Nationally, train-related fatalities have increased 25 percent since 2012.
A person or a vehicle is struck by a car on average every three hours in the United States, according to Kaitlyn Barrett, a corporate spokeswoman for CSX.
“Walking, riding or taking photographs along the tracks is extremely dangerous and illegal,” she says by email. “Accidents occur all too often.”
It takes more than a mile for a freight train to stop, and you don’t know when a train will appear, since freight trains don’t follow a set schedule and can come from either direction, Barrett says.
People don’t understand the danger, says Libby Rector Snipe, director of communications for Operation Lifesaver, a national railroad safety advocacy nonprofit based in Alexandria.
“They may assume they can get out of the way if a train comes, but the train is always moving faster than you think,” she says.
Often, they are simply unaware of their surroundings, using headphones or looking at their phones, says Snipe. “This is a factor both at railroad crossings when people are in their vehicles and when they are walking near tracks,” she says.
CSX and Norfolk Southern are working with several campaigns to raise awareness that it’s dangerous and illegal to trespass on railroad tracks. Norfolk Southern sponsored a video on rail safety basics, featuring Mark Kalina Jr., an Ohio State University student who lost a foot when he was struck by a train when taking a shortcut on railroad tracks back to his apartment one night.
CSX train safety video
CSX is a sponsor for the 34 Front Row Motorsports NASCAR team, part of an effort to reach men ages 18 to 34 with the company's safety message. That’s the demographic most likely to be involved in rail trespassing and highway and rail crossing accidents, Barrett says.
Operation Lifesaver volunteers present talks to school groups and classes and to civic groups and other events across the nation. It also has a national public awareness campaign: See Tracks? Think Train!
Operation Lifesaver also has a video public service announcement aimed at professional photographers, and has partnered with the Professional Photographers of America for a training session on safe photography, Snipe says. When its workers see train track photos posted online, they send letters to the photographers to make them aware of the dangers, and ask them to join the safety efforts.
Doherty also notes two campaigns sponsored by Union Pacific: #TracksAreForTrains, and #SafeSenior Photo.
Nothing beats a personal message, though.
Doherty says she often gets requests to stage family portraits or senior photos on railroad tracks, but steers them elsewhere. “I use the opportunity to educate on the dangers of doing so and assure them that we can find other locations that will give them beautiful portraits without the risk,” she says.
“I think once they hear that, they get that.”