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Railroad Question

Published : 23rd November 2013

I'm sure that there's a certain amount of legislation regarding the practice of mounting cameras to railroad rights of way, specifically as to whether or not it is legal to just slap something down between the tracks.

Obviously my gut assures me it's not kosher without permission but I'd like some clarification as to the process of obtaining clearance and the specific area of the law which deals with this other than simple property rights. Say perhaps any DOT laws or regs that someone might know of, whether or not specific rail lines have regulations unique to that particular company, whether or not standard film permits cover anything, tips and tricks for foolproof and risk free shots, anything that might shed more light on the subject.

Camera to be used in this instance would be a GoPro.

Jeffery Haas
camera-edit
Downey, CA


I don't know, but I do know that Amtrak will stop you even for just taking still photos in the railroad stations. They are very, very aggressive about that. I would not even think about trying to cowboy anything around their tracks.

However, when I have talked to the Amtrak people about getting a pass to photograph, they have always been very willing to bend over backwards and help us.

The easiest way to get the classical "train going over us" view is probably to place a camera underneath an open railroad bridge. This does not require doing anything above the tracks or to any of the bedding.

Finding such a bridge and getting permission to mount a camera there is something that the public relations folks at any of the freight railroads should be able to help you with.

Scott Dorsey
Kludge Audio
Williamsburg, VA.


Scott Dorsey wrote:

>> I don't know, but I do know that Amtrak will stop you even for just taking still photos in the railroad

>> stations. They are very, very aggressive about that.

This is true, Amtrak Police have even tried to shut us down when we were actually working for Amtrak. They have even arrested photographers taking pictures for an Amtrak sponsored train photo contest.

However, after a few lawsuits and a lot of facial egg, they have learned a little more about civil rights and the constitution and have calmed down.

Anyone has a perfect right to take photographs in any public place including Amtrak stations provided you do not interfere with the safety of others. The use of tripods and other equipment does require permission since you may be creating a hazard to pedestrians.

It helps to know the law ;-) For instance: Section 1050.9.C New York City Rules of Conduct
Photography, filming or video recording in any facility or conveyance is permitted except that ancillary equipment such as lights, reflectors or tripods may not be used. Members of the press holding valid identification issued by the New York City Police Department are hereby authorized to use necessary ancillary equipment. All photographic activity must be conducted in accordance with the provisions of this Part.

(Anyone contemplating any photography in public should get a copy of: "The Photographer's Right" by Bert Krages. A brief introduction can be found at his website: www.krages.com)

>> I would not even think about trying to cowboy anything around their tracks.

Right. But just because Amtrak trains run on a given track, it doesn't mean Amtrak owns the track. Unless you have to have an Amtrak train, I would avoid any contact with them.

There are lots of privately owned tracks, and even privately owned railroads that are far easier to deal with.

The best source of information on all of this is local train photo enthusiasts aka "Railfans" or the local chapter of the National Railway Historical Society.

They are serious railroad buffs and like most enthusiasts, they love to help anyone interested in their hobby.

Best of luck,

Brian Heller
IA 600 DP


I've shot a lot on and with trains in different countries and jurisdictions - Train people around the world are more like each other than they are like any other type of person - from the conductor up to the president of the company.

It will be up to the entity operating the train and also the entity that owns the tracks (sometimes the same, sometimes different.)

they are regulated but they are responsible for compliance.

Safety of their equipment and personnel and the safety of the public comes before all else
Secondly - not messing with schedules
Lastly - whatever you want.

If you can mount something that can't possible interfere with signal sensors under the train, (that are supposed to trip deadman switches) and that provide no way of accidentally damaging the train or the tracks, you will probably have no big trouble getting permission - but don’t sneak this sort of shot - in the terror-mad era in which we live, a foreign object on the right-of- way might be taken for a bomb or something.

If you can get the shot on a privately owned piece of track with a privately owned train that is the easiest - fewest people to satisfy.

If the shot is specific to a locale, you deal with whoever owns the track.

The worstest is trying to shoot ANYTHING on a busy rail corridor - especially if it is running freight and passenger

I have a friend who is the go-to guy for train stuff - he has been the train coordinator on more films than I have seen and is a great guy. Let me know off-list if you want his number - he does it for the money so depending on what you need to do he might or might not be cost-effective, but he is a great guy.

Mark Weingartner
DP, VFX Supervisor, and Stereographer
Los Angeles based


Brian Heller wrote:

>> There are lots of privately owned tracks, and even privately owned railroads that are far easier to deal with.

I absolutely concur. Post 9/11, any rail property connected to a government agency are much more complicated to deal with. I know it's not the question, but same goes for the train stations, especially in major urban centres. I shot in NY Grand Central almost two years after 9/11 and we still had a soldier with an M-16 escorting us.

Mitch Gross
Applications Specialist
AbelCine NY


>> but don’t sneak this sort of shot - in the terror-mad era in which we live, a foreign object on the right-of- >> way might be taken for a bomb or something.

---And yes, that DID come up in conversation, and yes, the first thing I said was "not on your life".

"Why, it's just a little GoPro with a LitePanels rig next to it." "Which looks like almost anything BUT a camera if you're the engineer approaching it at 60 mph with a full load of passengers, yes??"

Many thanks

Jeffery Haas
camera-edit
Downey, CA


Jeffery J. Haas wrote:

>>tips and tricks for foolproof and risk free shots, anything that might shed more light on the subject.


On a feature in Arizona several almost 3 yrs ago, we were shooting a scene nr a railway crossing. Of course a train came by so it was included in the frame. A few hrs later some railway officials showed up
in the production office. The matter was cleared and all went well, after some donation to a "union" fund or so.

For a recent doc shoot in MN, I contacted the railway company operating in the area following the incident in Arizona; got permission without any problem. Prior to this I did inform the local law enforcement of my
activities and presented myself in person. A little chat with the County Sheriff and Town Sheriff always help. As an alien, I wanted to anticipate as I was sure some citizens were going to make some calls.

Some did, but it was never an issue.

Cheers

Manny


Jeff Haas asked about limitations of filming on a railroad, here in the United States presumably.

I handle all shoot requests for the Virginia and Truckee Railroad and there is a very simple answer: In the United States, railroads and their associated rights-of-way are private property and patrolled by private railway police. Any entry onto railroad property without permission is trespassing, and railroad police are granted certain powers that are more typical of members of the Federal Protective Service than those of private security police. The reason that federal railway police have these powers derives from 19th century laws that make train wrecking a federal crime punishable by death. As a result, railroad police have full law enforcement arrest and detention authority, which the average shopping mall cop does not have.

And, just as a matter of common sense and safety, it takes a 14,000 - ton train running at normal speed more than a mile to come to a stop. You don't want to be anywhere near an active railroad without the protection of a so-called "Track Warrant."

The very largest railroads have a department, usually attached to the marketing department, that helps film-makers get access and protect them against (inevitably-fatal) accidents and other expensive embarrassments of
that nature.

If you need to shoot action that might damage the railroad equipment, track, right of way or other property, I recommend working through an expert in those matters, Jim Clark, who has shot more than 220 feature films involving this kind of action (mostly locomotive - automobile crashes). Drop me a note and I will put you in touch with Jim. He just recently came off of "The Lone Ranger" project in New Mexico and is now back at home in Nevada.

Best regards,

Stephen Stough
Washoe County, CA


I worked on a movie a number of years ago where we shot on an around an Amtrak platform, including placing lights and cameras on the platform, trackbed and nearby areas. Amtrak required the entire company to go through a 6-hour Amtrak contractor safety course. We all took a test and were granted temporary Amtrak contractor status. This allowed us, under the supervision of 3 or 4 official Amtrak personnel, to work more-or-less as we pleased around the platform. This was in an electric powered section of the track, so there were special restrictions around grounding any tall stands (lighting or grip) that might come within a certain distance (I think it was 4') of the overhead lines. This precaution was taken even though the overhead lines near our platform had been shut down and shunted to ground by Amtrak. There were also Amtrak personnel on hand monitoring nearby freight lines. They called us all onto the platform whenever a freight train was within 2 or 3 tracks from our location.

I don't know how complicated the pre-production was, but the on-site Amtrak guys were very professional, and accommodating in every reasonable way.

--Geoff Dann
Gaffer / CLT, New England
Cell: 401-692-6613