AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH –
The obligation of Professional Photographers in online or in Facebook or Meetup groups is to educate those people who are less informed than you. That goes beyond teaching newcomers about camera settings, exposure triangles, and lighting. That also includes teaching what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. Teaching them morals and to be ETHICAL photographers and to never put themselves or their clients into any situation where someone’s safety could be at risk.
Taking pictures on railroad tracks in the United States is ILLEGAL. It’s trespassing on land that is privately owned by the various railway companies and it puts both the photographer and their friends or clients at risk of being cited for misdemeanor trespass violation and also can put everyone’s physical safety at risk. ALL the major railways in the USA (Amtrak, CSX, BNSF, Union Pacific, and Southern Pacific) have published restrictions against taking pictures on their railroad tracks, trestles, and bridges. Many railway companies and news organizations have published numerous articles and stories detailing how it’s not always possible to “hear a train coming”. Union Pacific has a whole program called Operation Lifesaver that is dedicated to raising awareness against trespassing or photographing on their tracks. Railway companies take these risks VERY SERIOUSLY. Photographers and clients have been KILLED while taking pictures on railroad tracks. Laws and rules are there for a reason.
Professional and seasoned photographers know this and should be working to educate their less-knowledgeable colleagues on the rules and dangers. They shouldn’t be posting their own railroad track photos to make fun of the laws or those people who try to educate the up-and-comers in the community.
Even railroad tracks that are no longer used are still laid on land that is privately owned. It doesn’t matter whether a train is present or not, nor if one will ever come. Unless you are in a park or a railway museum that has display tracks specially installed, it is against the law to be on railroad tracks, anywhere. PERIOD.
The problem with posting pictures and claiming: “oh, those tracks are decommissioned”, is that you still trespassed to take the photo and the less-educated people in your groups will think it’s okay for them to take pictures on tracks too because nobody educated them any differently. We have an obligation to educate. To be ethical. To set good examples.
Ethics is what you do when nobody is watching.