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News & Insight

Photographers Struck, One Killed, on Railroad Tracks Saturday

By Tanya Goodall Smith on October 13th 2014


Photo by DieselDemon via Flickr

A woman was killed Saturday evening after being struck by a train on a bridge trestle near Santa Barbara, California. Three others were involved in the accident.

According the Santa Barbara news site, Noozhawk, the foreign students, two women and two men, were taking photos on the trestle when an Amtrak train approached. One woman suffered a fatal injury, being declared dead at the scene. The other woman had mild injuries and was taken to a nearby hospital.

One of the men was critically injured and was air lifted to the hospital. The other man was not injured.

The staff here at SLR Lounge are always saddened to hear of a preventable tragedy like this one, and would like to take this opportunity to remind our community about the dangers, not to mention the legal consequences, of trespassing on railroad property.


If you haven’t already, please review the safety and legal guidelines in our article 4 REASONS YOU SHOULDN’T TAKE PORTRAITS ON RAILROAD TRACKS and the the follow up to that article, THE 5TH REASON PHOTOGRAPHERS SHOULD STAY OFF THE TRACKS.

Here’s a summary review of the Pedestrian Rail Safety Tips by Operation Lifesaver:

The only safe place to cross is at a designated public crossing with either a crossbuck, flashing red lights or a gate. If you cross at any other place, you are trespassing and can be ticketed or fined. Cross tracks ONLY at designated pedestrian or roadway crossings.

Railroad tracks, trestles, yards and equipment are private property and trespassers are subject to arrest and fine. If you are in a rail yard uninvited by a railroad official you are trespassing and subject to criminal prosecution; you could be injured or killed in a busy rail yard.

It can take a mile or more to stop a train, so a locomotive engineer who suddenly sees someone on the tracks will likely be unable to stop in time. Railroad property is private property. For your safety, it is illegal to be there unless you are at a designated public crossing.

Trains overhang the tracks by at least three feet in both directions; loose straps hanging from rail cars may extend even further. If you are in the right-of-way next to the tracks, you can be hit by the train.

Do not cross the tracks immediately after a train passes. A second train might be blocked by the first. Trains can come from either direction. Wait until you can see clearly around the first train in both directions.

Flashing red lights indicate a train is approaching from either direction. You can be fined for failure to obey these signals. Never walk around or behind lowered gates at a crossing, and DO NOT cross the tracks until the lights have stopped flashing and it’s safe to do so.

Do not {photograph}, hunt, fish or bungee jump from railroad trestles. There is only enough clearance on the tracks for a train to pass. Trestles are not meant to be sidewalks or pedestrian bridges! Never walk, run, cycle or operate all terrain vehicles (ATVs) on railroad tracks, rights-of-way or through tunnels.

Do not attempt to hop aboard railroad equipment at any time. A slip of the foot can cost you a limb or your life.

Be aware trains do not follow set schedules. Any Time is Train Time!

Please stay off the tracks and spread the word to other photographers, especially those who are new and may not be aware of the dangers.

Via Noozhawk

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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

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Paul Blacklock

    so much pain and loss just for a photo.

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  2. J D

    I will not photograph on or near tracks. I know I might have lost out on a client or two because of it but I am not willing to risk my safety or the safety of others to get that “perfect” shot.

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    • Kasun Meegahapola

      100% agree with this. That is the difference between Professionals and Amateurs. Professionals get enough ‘perfect’ shots than risking their life or their clients life. Or even others life. Once i saw one ‘person’ using a speed light at a cycle race right in front of the competitors face. (I used the term ‘person’ bcos its a shame to call him as a ‘photographer’).

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  3. Kasun Meegahapola

    This is happening over and over again and some people doesn’t get it do they? Do they need to be reminded with horrific photo of the incident under a warning board near rail tracks?

    If a photographer cannot think of a simple thing like the danger of getting hit by a train / vehicle how can he/ she think of photography basics like the math between Aperture vs ISO vs Shutter speed and other factors that you need to think when producing a creative art??

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  4. Mircea Blanaru

    Very sad news and very good advice!!!

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  5. Zeb Yap-Chung

    good advice

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  6. Ryan Orcullo

    Keep safe everyone to avoid this incident again.

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  7. John Cavan

    People love trains and train tracks, so I get the attraction from a photography angle, but every city is likely to have places where you can arrange to do photography on them legally and safely. There are many places that used to ship by rail and have old spur lines, etc. that may be willing to let you shoot on them.

    Getting anywhere near live tracks is just asking for trouble.

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  8. Daniel Thullen

    A tragedy that could have been easily prevented. It seems like this happens several times a year. Although professional photographers typically do not shoot on train trestles, thank you SRL Lounge for reminding us of the consequences.

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