In many photographer’s portfolios, there are images shot with the models posing on railroad tracks or beside graffiti covered trains.

There is an allure to shooting on the tracks. The symmetry of the lines of the tracks contrasted against the perpendicular lines of the railroad ties underneath provide a perfect backdrop for shooting a model or a couple.

However, shooting along railroad tracks can be dangerous as well. You would think that you would hear or feel a train as it thundered down the tracks, but every year people are killed as they fail to get out of the way of an oncoming train.

On October 15, 2011, three teenage girls were out shooting pictures along the railroad tracks just outside of the entrance to Covered Bridge Canyon, in Spanish Fork, Utah. Two of the girls were sisters and the other a close friend. There are two tracks that run parallel and apparently, the girls saw one oncoming train and stepped between the tracks, but either didn’t see the other train coming from the other direction, or were blown around by the force of the speeding trains and were hit. The news mentioned that trains typically have loads that extend ~3-4 feet from the tracks they ride on so there wasn’t much room between the two trains.

Two of the girls died immediately, and the other girl died in the hospital a few days later of her injuries.

I can’t even begin to feel the pain of the parents, especially the family that lost 2 daughters from the incident.

In my travels, I have driven along Highway 6 that parallels those tracks and have seen the Covered Bridge that marks the entrance to the canyon. It is beautiful there and with the fall colors that are at their brightest, the backdrop would have been gorgeous. Indeed the allure of shooting along the tracks was too great for these teenage girls who never suspected the dangers associated with their actions.

A reminder to my fellow photographers. It is very dangerous to shoot on the railroad tracks or to be around a speeding train. They can’t stop. I have heard that it would take a mile or more to stop a fully loaded freight train in emergency conditions. There is too much inertia behind those huge engines that slow down a train’s stopping capabilities. In addition, railroad tracks are considered private property and it is actually trespassing to be on the tracks at any time.

The dangers also exist when stopped at a railroad crossing. I have a friend who lost his son when he decided to drive around a railroad crossing barrier that was down because he thought he could make it before the train arrived. It was devastating for my friend and his family.

Don’t take chances that would impact you or the lives of the models that you shoot with. I don’t think I could live with myself if I was shooting a model who was hurt or killed as a result of taking a risk.

My thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of these 3 teenage girls. It was a tragic accident and one that didn’t have to happen!

Just be careful out there!