OGDEN — The converging lines of steel and the old-time, rustic feel of railroad tracks might provide a perfect backdrop for a picture, but posing on tracks for a photo isn’t only illegal, it’s also extremely dangerous.
Transportation officials say professional and amateur photos of people posing on local train tracks has become a headache.
“It’s become all the rage for dance groups, cheerleading squads, athletic teams, families and soon-to-be-married couples to pose on the tracks for a photo,” said Vic Saunders, spokesman for the Utah Department of Transportation.
“People have always done that kind of thing, but it seems to be growing in popularity.”
Saunders also serves as a presenter for Operation Lifesaver Utah, a nonprofit public awareness program dedicated to ending accidents on railroad property.
The growing trend is a major safety hazard, he said.
“One of our biggest concerns is keeping the public safe, and when you have people posing on train tracks, that’s anything but safe.”
Trains, Saunders said, are extremely unpredictable — they travel at varying speeds, they can approach at a relatively low volume of noise in certain settings, and they can come by at any time, from either direction of the track.
“You don’t know when a train will come, when two will come at the same time, or how fast it will be coming,” Saunders said. “Trains tend to sneak up on people.”
Vern Keeslar, director of Operation Lifesaver Utah, said photographs on train tracks are taken by both professionals and amateurs and estimates the practice occurs “hundreds, if not thousands,” of times every year across the state.
“Just the other day, I personally chased off a mother with her two small children taking photos on the train tracks,” he said. “It’s happening every day.”
The photos are not just dangerous — they are also illegal, Keeslar said.
“If you are on those tracks, you are trespassing. People are not allowed on those tracks.”
Keeslar said his organization has worked with the Union Pacific Railroad to post signs along the rail corridor, reminding people to keep off the tracks, but that measure has yielded only limited success.
“Obviously, the tracks cover an extremely long corridor and it’s impossible to have enough signs to cover every single area, so we’re trying to get the word out in other ways.”
Keeslar said Operation Lifesaver Utah has been keeping tabs on rail photos and, when possible, contacting photographers to educate them on the law.
“We’ve contacted several photographers and asked them to take the photos off of their websites and things like that,” he said. “It’s a slow process, but we are making some headway in educating people.”
Efforts are also being made to work with local police agencies for stricter enforcement on railroad trespassing, Keeslar said.
“We’re trying to do whatever we can to send this message to people,” he said.
“Stay off the tracks.”