- Associated Press - Sunday, September 28, 2014

LE MARS, Iowa (AP) - Bisected by railways that enter and exit the city, for better or worse, it could be said trains have shaped the city of Le Mars.

On the city’s outskirts, clattering engines chug over rivers and creeks, guided on tracks alongside fields of corn and beans.

Train enthusiasts and artists are drawn to photograph those steel and wood paths, the LeMars Daily Sentinel reported (https://bit.ly/1uJWCGV ).

Doing so carries attendant risks.

Near misses between photographers and oncoming trains have attracted the attention of rail companies like Union Pacific Railroad, of Omaha, Nebraska.

The company is trying to draw attention to the dangers of the popular practice.

Professional photographer Chris Becker, past president of the Professional Photographers of Iowa, said shooting photos on railways is common among photographers.

“A lot of them do, and I have done it in the past,” he said.

It’s not just photographers who are attracted to the tracks’ aesthetics.

Consumer demand for train-track portraits is also alive and well, Becker noted - particularly for high school senior photos.

“It seems like high school kids kind of like the look of it,” he said.

Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis said in addition to senior photos, railway portraits of families and weddings are also plentiful.

Photographers advertise their ability to create those photos on the Internet using examples of previous work, he said.

Davis estimates websites containing such photos are discovered about once a month.

Photos include parents sitting on the metal rails on either side of the track, while children pose atop the wooden planks in the middle, he said.

It isn’t only the trains that present dangers to pedestrians, said Davis.

“You see photos of people balancing on the rail and things of that nature,” Davis noted. “If that person were to fall and hit their head on the rail, that steel is very unforgiving.”

There are also possible legal repercussions, he added.

While photographing objects in plain view in public spaces is constitutionally protected, taking photos on railroad company property is trespassing.

Railroad tracks, trestles, yards and rights-of-way are private property, Davis explained.

Union Pacific staff contact photographers who post onto the Internet photos taken on railways, asking them to remove the images.

“Because in essence they are providing a positive image for something that is extremely dangerous as well as against the law,” Davis said.

Trespassing opens the door to citation or arrest.

Sometimes Union Pacific safety team members or railroad police officers will visit the photographer, he said.

To Davis’ knowledge, Union Pacific has not taken legal action against individuals who have published photographs taken from tracks or trestles.

“Usually the photographers are not aware they are trespassing on private property and indicate to us they would not do it again,” he said.

Becker said he isn’t aware of any photography-related train accidents occurring in Le Mars.

However, injuries or deaths do occur annually when trespassers stray onto railroad property.

In 2013, there were about 900 incidents nationwide, according to Federal Railroad Administration data.

Nine of those incidents were in Iowa.

While it is difficult to pinpoint how many incidents involved photographers, Union Pacific is nonetheless reaching out to photographers as part of its train safety initiatives.

Going before photography clubs to share train safety information and dispel myths is one component, Davis said.

Union Pacific also collaborates with Operation Lifesaver Inc., a rail safety education non-profit based in Alexandria, Virginia.

That organization has created guidelines for photographers shooting near tracks, which the association Professional Photographers of America, of Atlanta, Georgia, has endorsed.

“We recommend to our photographers that they do not use railroads as backdrops,” said Frank Burdell, copyright and government affairs coordinator.

Davis said for those who wish to photograph trains, they can do so safely by maintaining a safe distance from the railway and staying on public property.

Public sidewalks away from the trackside are acceptable, he noted.

Becker noted as awareness of the dangers of train-track photography has increased, professional photographers are shying away from the practice.

“It’s become an issue and many of us - I include myself - feel that we should not be doing it now,” he said.

When clients request railway photographs, he said he steers them away from that type of commission.

Davis said the importance of removing railway photographs from public view is to convey the message the practice is unacceptable.

Those photos are the products of exposing both the subject and photographer to real dangers, he said.

“Just the enormity of the rail equipment, you’re looking at equipment that is extremely heavy,” Davis said.

He noted a train locomotive has a crushing factor when it impacts automobiles, much like a motor vehicle striking an aluminum beverage can.

“One can only imagine what it would do to an unprotected person,” he said.


Information from: Daily Sentinel, https://www.lemarssentinel.com

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