Officials warn against trespassing on Fort Mill train tracks

joverman@fortmilltimes.comJanuary 9, 2013 

— A trend in which more and more young people are taking photos on and near railroad tracks has caught the eye of a local railroad photographer – and police.

Police have recently had to ask two different groups of teenagers to get off the railroad tracks in downtown Fort Mill in the last few months, said Capt. Bryan Zachary, the public information officer for the Fort Mill Police Department.

It’s dangerous, he said, and it’s technically trespassing.

“They’ve been dressed in costume, kind of retro ‘60s attire and in one case we did have a teen who was in a sleeping bag on the tracks having a photograph taken,” Zachary said.

The teens “left immediately and we’ve not had them return,” he added. “So I hope the message has gotten out.”

Brian Rackley of Fort Mill, has been taking photos of trains as a hobby since 1976. He’s fascinated by the history of railroad transportation and spends much of his free time traveling to railroad crossings around the area to catch shots of trains.

He always maintains a safe distance from the tracks, he said, but in the last year he has twice spotted groups doing photo shoots on the railroad tracks.

More than a year ago he saw three people with what appeared to be with a professional photographer, he said. The trio stood across the railroad tracks with linked arms, “like they were going to pretend to stop a train,” he said.

Just a few weeks ago, Rackley saw teens taking photos on the tracks with their cell phones.

In both cases, the people appeared to be relaxed and having a good time, he said, unaware that a train was scheduled to be coming down the tracks in just a few minutes. Rackley called police in both cases, fearing for their safety.

The police cleared the people off the tracks before the train came, he said.

People don’t realize how quickly a train can come up and how difficult it can be to assess its speed and distance, Rackley said, especially at a railroad crossing like Main Street in Fort Mill, which curves in both directions.

“Trains can sneak up on you here in town. By the time they are coming around the corner, if you trip and fall, you’re done,” Rackley said.

Robin Chapman, director of public relations for Norfolk Southern Railroad, which runs through downtown Fort Mill, agreed with Rackley.

There is only a 20-second warning when trains approach a crossing in town, he said.

“It’s enough for a car to get out of the way or stop. But trains can approach surprisingly quietly and you can’t always tell looking down the track how fast they are coming. They are large objects and can appear to be going slower than they are, especially if coming at you straight on,” Chapman said.

Injuries can occur whether a train is coming or not, he added. Train tracks are lubricated by trains and become slippery.

In December, a woman in Pennsylvania was injured while taking photos on railroad tracks and another woman in California was killed while taking photos of an oncoming train, according to news reports.

It’s dangerous and illegal, said Chapman.

“Railroads are private property and anyone on the railroad or even close to the track are trespassing on private property could be fined or arrested, but besides that it is dangerous. Freight trains don’t run at regular schedules, so they could arrive at any time.”

In addition to local law enforcement, a railroad police force patrols railroad tracks for offenders, he said. They hand out misdemeanor tickets for trespassing, he added.

Local photographer Stefanie Morris of SMM Photography said the trend of taking photos on railroad tracks likely came from instant editing software and applications like Instagram that show off rugged elements like railroad tracks well.

“And people see it and think it looks really good and want to do it,” she said.

Morris tells clients about the dangers and offers an alternative suggestion. On several spots along the Carolina Thread Trail are dormant railroad tracks suitable for photo shoots.

“That’s a good option for overcoming that barrier,” she said.

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