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Western Railroad Discussion > Do you feel like a criminal when railfanning?

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Date: 08/10/17 22:54
Do you feel like a criminal when railfanning?
Author: NS19K

I get uneasy when I'm parked anywhere for extended periods fearing the police may be called on me even when on public property.I find myself moving from spot to spot in an effort to minimize my dwell time. Doing so can cost me some trains but it keeps me from looking suspicious. Do any of you feel the same way.

Date: 08/10/17 23:00
Re: Do you feel like a criminal when railfanning?
Author: RailFanAZ

In the city I feel that way.  Out in the country, I have no worries since the police know what is going on.  :)

RailFanning UP & BNSF, AZ

Date: 08/11/17 01:31
Re: Do you feel like a criminal when railfanning?
Author: SN711

I used to, but I just got used to sitting where I wanted to. If the police want to stop to see what I am doing then they can. Overall, it had been so few times that I actually don't think they are doing a very good job of checking me out. Actually I sit in the same spot a lot and I believe word got around between the officers that they just wave now. In about 6 years only 4 times total in the area and only twice in my city. Then again I called them a few times too.

If they want to see what I am doing that is fine. Never had a problem. But also I have always parked where it is reasonably safe to do so (enough clearance from the roadway). You park in a spot that might create a hazard then you can expect more contacts. If I am going to do that, I stay very briefly and only if safe enough. I have passed on a lot of shots because it wasn't safe to stop.

Oh and I am only counting the last 6 years or so. Before I took an 18 year break, there were many encounters with SP Police. They were always pretty cool, since every time I/we were on the property to some extent. I always stayed out of the big yards for the most part though.

Don't worry about it do much. Pick safe spots and have some photos handy in case you want to show them what you do ( I have never had to pull out the photos). The last officer I talked to under those circumstances was about 5 months ago. Never saw her before ( saw her driving around one day before) so I just had a hunch we were going to meet soon. But I do park in a spot that is a thoroughfare for the police to get from one part of town to the other and they park nearby. So the odds were pretty good we would meet. Her first question after what I was up to was "are you on probation". I chuckled to myself. But realize that a lot of people that do hang out along the tracks and other remote spots around town are drug users, pedophiles, have warrants etc. so don't be surprised if the initial tone is expecting that you might be up to something unsavory or are wanted, before you can show that you are just there watching/photographing the trains. Taking that into consideration, I am shocked that the police have stopped to check on me so few times.


Posted from iPhone

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/11/17 01:36 by SN711.

Date: 08/11/17 02:38
Re: Do you feel like a criminal when railfanning?
Author: pdt

Ive never felt like a criminal. Been treated like a criminal. Thats different.

Date: 08/11/17 05:16
Re: Do you feel like a criminal when railfanning?
Author: misty1

Been stopped and checked 2x in 4 years by same dept. My fault I was in the park after hours. Now they don't even bother me if I am there after hours.

Date: 08/11/17 06:27
Re: Do you feel like a criminal when railfanning?
Author: Lackawanna484

Many agencies will enter info into their automated vehicle plate readers indicating why you're in a location.

Posted from Android

Date: 08/11/17 06:56
Re: Do you feel like a criminal when railfanning?
Author: rbmn5022

I tend to do a lot of photography in areas where there is a heavy security presence and/or less than stellar neighborhoods, but I rarely have issues. I use ATCS Monitor through my phone when available, so I've gotten good at timing my arrival to limit my time loitering around at a specific location where I feel that something like this is more likely to be an issue.

Date: 08/11/17 07:25
Re: Do you feel like a criminal when railfanning?
Author: TAW

Date: 08/11/17 07:29
Re: Do you feel like a criminal when railfanning?
Author: santafe199

SN711 Wrote: > ...  If the police want to stop to see what I am doing then they can ...

I've got nothing to hide so I completely agree with this attitude. In fact, a few times I've been the one to initiate an opportune contact. I feel it's to my advantage that any given RR special agent can know me and particularly my vehicle by sight, and know that I'm not a company threat that he/she needs to waste time investigating. In general I think it's a good idea to have local authorities, especially RR police/special agents know what an average railfan is up to when out in the field. They should be able to know that a railfan can also be a handy extra set of eyes to watch out for something that a RR officer would want to know about. A responsible railfan with or without a camera cab be a great ambassador for the rest of us in this post-9/11 era...


Date: 08/11/17 07:37
Re: Do you feel like a criminal when railfanning?
Author: kbmiflyer

The only place I have felt odd is the Dolton Police station, one of the great railfanning locations in the country. For all accounts, the police and other public service officials have no problem with railfans using the parking lot as long as they are respectful, but I always get just a little nervous when the police cars or other officials are driving through. Not sure why.

Date: 08/11/17 07:41
Re: Do you feel like a criminal when railfanning?
Author: CZ10

I do not feel like a criminal, because I'm not! However,
I am careful by avoiding trespassing (when possible) and
insuring that I am not attracting attention by moving or
acting in an unsafe manner. As mentioned above, if there
are some police (RR or otherwise) I initiate contact,
introduce myself, and make sure that I'm not causing a dis-
ruption by being there. The few times I've been asked to
leave, I've usually been allowed to get a few photographs

Date: 08/11/17 07:56
Re: Do you feel like a criminal when railfanning?
Author: SN711

TAW Wrote:
> https://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?11
> ,2052907,2052907#msg-2052907

I have to laugh a little on this one. I worked over in Redwood City 20 years later. I met a few of the RCPD officers (not while railfanning) but did not notice anything out of the ordinary. Found out later on that the RCPD officers had a reputation to maintain, as they considered themselves a little higher on the elite scale.

Besides you were on the street 1/2 block from the police station where mostly drunks tend to wander, leaning up against a building in weather most "normal" people would not be out in, let alone doing an activity that they probably consider idiotic (even in good weather)!!!


Ps: should add that a few blocks further down the tracks was a short street that got the nickname "gobblers loop". That street got extra attention. (On a family forum I can't explain the nickname any further).

Posted from iPhone

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/11/17 08:31 by SN711.

Date: 08/11/17 08:10
Re: Do you feel like a criminal when railfanning?
Author: MojaveBill

Never. As an ex-cop, I understand the situation from the officer's side. When they see someone with a camera they usually understand.
I would rather they are doing their job than not, in this day and age! Here in Mojave we need MORE police presence with non-railfan trespassers crawling under fences and walking through the yard.
BTW, I got those camera ports in the bridge over the north end of the yard back when it was built. County was happy to install them. Just don't park on the bridge unless you want a cement truck to "move" your vehicle!

Bill Deaver
Mojave, CA

Date: 08/11/17 08:31
Re: Do you feel like a criminal when railfanning?
Author: CPRR

I was in high school waiting for a train in Chatsworth at a crossing. In the car was my future wife and a friend. The old searchlight showed red indicating a train coming.

Well LAPD's finest rolled up. Asked what are we are doing. I said "waiting for a train". Took my other half out of the car, asked her what are we doing. She told them that John (the other person in the car) and I are "train nuys, and are waiting for a train". The took John away from us, and he said the same thing.

Just then, the crossing guards came down, and the southbound train rolled by. We were allowed to leave.....

Posted from iPhone

Date: 08/11/17 09:24
Re: Do you feel like a criminal when railfanning?
Author: TAW

Date: 08/11/17 12:40
Re: Do you feel like a criminal when railfanning?
Author: fs321a

Never felt like a criminal, no. I'm in public safety as well and welcome the PD contact. Sometimes it's good conversation with the officers.

Now yesterday at Cajon Pass I was shadowed by a Security fella who wouldn't make contact with me, but would turn on his spotlight periodically at my truck.

Kinda odd...

Jon in Az

Posted from Android

Date: 08/11/17 13:24
Re: Do you feel like a criminal when railfanning?
Author: SN711

Funny story..... although funnier because I wasn't there that day, but it was told to me in a funny light:

Late 1980's at the Powell Street overpass in Emeryville, CA. This was years before the Amtrak station existed. The pedestrian walkway is below street level and can't be seen from the roadway. It is accessed from stairs on both sides of the tracks that went down to the street under the overpass. Kind of creepy to be there by yourself, but was a great place to shoot westbound SP trains (SP actually ran trains back then) in the afternoon.

The late Bryan Copple and Jim Bruce were up there waiting on an approaching train. Suddenly they noticed two police officers slowly coming up the stairs behind them with guns drawn as well as two more starting across the overpass toward them. Seems that someone had called the police saying there were two men with guns up on the overpass. The officers quickly realized the report was unfounded, just two big guys with cameras. Jim quipped back that the only guns they had were cameras with motor drives. The officers apologized and left them to shoot the approaching train.


Posted from iPhone

Date: 08/11/17 13:39
Re: Do you feel like a criminal when railfanning?
Author: jbohdan2

In short, "yes" I was made to feel like a criminal on one specific occasion going on five years ago in the great state of Texas. I was visiting my brother who lives outside Fort Worth. We were close to finishing a day of shooting and were driving down a public street that runs along the west side of BNSF's yard in Fort Worth, a former BN/FW&D facility I think. As we drove along we saw a rebuilt GP-30 in the swoosh scheme parked right along the roadway. There was a church with a large parking lot just west of it, empty but for two FWPD police cars sitting farther back in the lot, that were arranged in the customary driver window to driver window conversation mode. We pulled in, parked and got out to take a quick roster shot. We did not walk out of the lot, cross the street, or venture onto railroad property. The shutter clicked, but before I could even turn around, I heard a voice behind me announce " I know what you are doing is perfectly legal, but I will need to see some identification." I looked around to see the two squad cars had now moved directly behind us in the lot. Puzzled, my brother and I produced our licenses and each officer took them to their respective cars to run their checks. I presumed they would be quickly returned and we would be on our way. Wrong. 45 minutes later the licenses were still in the police cars and I felt very much aggrieved. The officer that was nearest to me told me they were "checking on something", but in the interim suggested he had some device that detected radioactivity, and I was giving off a positive reading. He expressed puzzlement over my Indiana license plate and questioned why I would be so far away in Texas. He would not let me move in the direction where my brother was standing. Some 15 minutes later, another vehicle pulled into the lot and the two occupants got out and began conversing with the local officers. It was apparent they had been summoned. Eventually one approached me and identified himself as an officer with the Department of Homeland Security. He asked why I would take a picture of such a thing. I painstakingly explained why this old second generation carbody would be of interest to railfans. Although he claimed to be "in charge of railroad security for that entire section of the state" he denied knowing that there was such a thing as railfan photographers. I told him that there were still many print publications dedicated to the topic that he could find at Barnes & Noble and that there were countless online sites as well. He seemed downright befuddled. After about five minutes, D.H.S. departed. Meanwhile, my officer, with my permission, had peered into my vehicle and noted our two Bearcat scanners lying about. He seemed even more concerned now over those and asked why they were there. I explained we(railfans) use them to locate trains for our photography. He said "my concern is that you have 'two' of them, and that you are using them to communicate." My patience was wearing as I explained they are non transmitting scanners and if I wanted to talk to someone, I would use a cell phone. He seemed unconvinced. Ultimately another car pulled into the lot with smoked-out windows. A male and female emerged, and they too initially conferred with the local constabulary. They then introduced themselves to us as FBI agents and gave us their cards. Thankfully, FBI agents are generally of a higher educated group and within five minutes they directed the locals to let us go. Those two officers looked like someone had just kicked their puppy. I spoke briefly and privately with the male agent and explained that I recognized what had happened here (I am a criminal defense attorney in my home state) and that I viewed this as a stupendous waste of time and resources. It is a very fine line between "investigatory stops" and an impermissible arrest, and I viewed the line as crossed. It still angers me all these years later even recounting this, and I assure you there are no factual embellishments in this recital. I will never shoot train photos in Fort Worth again.

Date: 08/11/17 14:18
Re: Do you feel like a criminal when railfanning?
Author: Lackawanna484

Local police receive significant dollars and goodies when they contribute to major drug busts or homeland security events. Multiple hundreds of thousands in forfeiture and gifts like incident command centers.

The Fort Worth interdiction of a possible terrorist observation on a major transportation asset is worth big bucks to the local agency.

I've told the story of the low speed crash of an NJT train and a paint truck in Little Falls. Dozens of police officers, I counted nine different agencies. All of which would likely write up their participation in a potential rail mass casualty incident.

Police agencies have incentives to find terrorists in their own backyards.

Posted from Android

Date: 08/11/17 14:47
Re: Do you feel like a criminal when railfanning?
Author: toledopatch

I've had a bunch of encounters with police, most of them cordial. The most hostile was probably one involving the Detroit PD, who I presume were called by the security agents at the Marathon refinery by the Fort Street bridge. The refinery people are a**holes.

Perhaps the most amusing incident occurred at Oak Point Yard in The Bronx, where I was waiting for an eastbound Providence & Worcester hopper train to come past the yard on the running track next to the NEC main. I parked on a public street parallel to the yard and was waiting on an intersecting street that had a driveway entrance into the yard. A city cop pulled up and started giving me the third degree. "You keep looking over your shoulder" was one of his clues to my nefarious intent, which I could have told him in response, "Wouldn't you, if you were in this lousy neighborhood?" but I didn't. When he asked for my ID, though, I said I'd have to get it out of my car.... and once he saw my wife watching this whole thing from the car, his demeanor completely changed.

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