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Man Struck, Killed on Train Tracks While Posing for Photo in Auburn, WA

By Tanya Goodall Smith on January 22nd 2014

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Photo by Joshua Putnam via Flickr Creative Commons

A 42-year old man was struck by a train and killed while posing on tracks for a photo in Auburn, Washington on Saturday. According to an article on kirotv.com, the man was sitting on the tracks while his girlfriend took his picture. No one else was injured in the accident and the 130 passengers on the train were loaded on to buses to continue their journey to Seattle.

The comments made by readers after the Kiro TV article reminded me of our past two articles about staying off railroad tracks, which debunk common myths about trains. The #1 myth being that trains are loud and only a deaf person wouldn’t hear one coming. That’s simply not true! Amtrak and other high speed trains are silent and move so quickly, it’s practically impossible to detect one coming from behind.

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Please review the safety and legal guidelines regarding photographing railroad tracks here: 4 REASONS YOU SHOULDN’T TAKE PORTRAITS ON RAILROAD TRACKS

And here:
THE 5TH REASON PHOTOGRAPHERS SHOULD STAY OFF THE TRACKS

For the record, a pedestrian is killed once every 3 hours in the United States, which is shocking, considering those deaths are 100% preventable by simply staying off the tracks! Here are a few comments left on our previous articles by railway workers (some also happen to be photographers), which I found to be very eye opening.

“As a Locomotive Engineer I can say this happens way too often. Not only have I seen these morons taking pics on the tracks, I had the misfortune of hitting and killing one only a year ago. Trains are no joke, stay away from the tracks. And to clear up some earlier statements, there are high speed rails in America. Unless 150mph isn’t high speed to you.”
–DANIEL TURNER

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“I work on the railroad and I completely agree with every angle of this article. I’ve worked in yards where shoving cars (with the locomotive on the rear pushing the cars) is very common. You can not hear the cars coming, even when they are right up on you. If that doesn’t make you think twice, then take this into consideration… A locomotive weighs over 400,000 pounds and is almost entirely made of metal. Some travel at top speeds of 150mph.

“I would also like to point out, taking your life out of the equation, to think about the engineer and possibly the conductor that are on the locomotive that strikes you and/or your client. I have seen first hand the mental trauma that is experienced by the crew that strikes a trespasser (because that is what you are while on railroad property without permission). There is NEVER a reason to jeopardize your life or your clients life to get the “perfect shot.” –MARK T

“As a railroad employee and amateur photographer, I find the general public’s blatant disregard for property laws very disheartening. They fully expect people they do not want there to stay off their land, and respect the rights to their photos, but feel they don’t not owe anyone else that respect. It is misguided selfishness in its purest form. People forget that respect is earned, and not given. A disrespectful person is undeserving of respect being returned.” –BILL STONE

“NO, a photographer nor their client will NOT detect a train coming. Seriously, if trains were so easily detected by trespassers, fatalities would come once or twice a year, not once every three hours.

“Please, please PLEASE do NOT go near train tracks. Even tracks which appear abandoned might not be. And even if they are, its still possible for a train to be there. An old freight car, also abandoned, on a siding somewhere gets bashed by a falling tree and begins to roll, its brakes long since having rusted so much that that impact broke them off. That car now has no way of stopping and since the railroad is abandoned, there isn’t even anyone to recognize that a car is rolling that shouldn’t be.”

“And tracks which are in service, could very well host a freight train at 60mph or Amtrak at 79mph. At 60mph, a train covers 88 feet per second. In less than 3.5 seconds, that train will travel from one endzone to the other. How fast can you detect the train, process the fact that you are about to die, overcome your instinctive terror, make a decision to save your life, and carry it out? Really? In 3.5 seconds?” –J.D. GALLAWAY

I can’t even imagine the horror of watching a loved one being obliterated by a train. My sympathies go out to the girlfriend and family of the man killed in Auburn, as well as the conductors and passengers who were on the train. You may call me a “square” all you want, my fellow photographers, but I implore you to help prevent accidents like this from happening by keeping yourselves and your subjects off the tracks for good.

Note: Our article 10 Basic Poses for Wedding Photographers features a couple posing on tracks. We will no longer be endangering our clients in this way. For lots of safe posing ideas, check out our Natural Light Portraiture Workshop. Click here to view more details.

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Tanya Goodall Smith is the owner, brand strategist and commercial photographer at WorkStory Corporate Photography in Spokane, Washington. WorkStory creates visual communications that make your brand irresistible to your target market. Join the stock photo rebellion at workstoryphotography.com.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Umberto

    Yeah. I think she said to him,” don’t worry darling it’s on another track… And hey, I’ve got the best picture. Sorry, maybe not. If I was the investigator she would be my first suspect.

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  2. Reynardt

    Sorry, I’m cynical. The moment I read “he’s girlfriend” I put 2 and 2 together. I MUST be wrong, but this doesn’t really make sense…..

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    • Arnold

      Yeah, because it didn’t say “he’s girlfriend”.

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