The state Department of Transportation is warning people not to use railroad tracks as the setting for their prom or graduation photos this spring.
NCDOT is working with the Department of Public Instruction to ask high school yearbook staff advisers to notify students and photographers of the dangers posed by taking photos on or near railroad tracks. The agencies urge yearbooks not to publish any.
The warning comes after a college student and aspiring model was hit and killed by a train during a photo shoot in the small Texas town of Navasota last month. Fredzania Thompson, 19, heard the horn of an approaching Union Pacific train and moved to an adjoining set of tracks, not realizing that a Burlington Northern train was coming the other way.
“You put your life at risk by trespassing on railroad tracks,” said Paul Worley, director of NCDOT’s Rail Division. “We need photographers, school administrators and parents to educate students about the potential danger of taking photos on railroad tracks.”
Though it may have become a cliche, using railroad tracks as a backdrop for a photograph remains popular. The web site Pinterest has several pages, such as “Railroad photography,” “Railroad senior pictures” and “Railroad track photography,” full of photos of young people posing on rails or lying across the ties of a railroad track. The site also has family Christmas photos and portraits of young children on railroad tracks as well.
The NCDOT’s springtime message to students is part of an ongoing campaign by DOT’s BeRailSafe program and a nonprofit safety group backed by the rail industry called Operation Lifesaver. The mission of both organizations is to remind people that railroad tracks are private property and that walking and hanging around on them can be dangerous.
“Generally speaking, every trespass injury or fatality is preventable,” said Margaret Cannell, who heads Operation Lifesaver in North Carolina. “All railroad tracks are private property, even ‘inactive’ tracks, and being on them is a Class 3 trespassing misdemeanor.”
511Number of pedestrians killed by trains nationwide in 2016
Last year, 23 pedestrians were killed by trains on railroad tracks in North Carolina, the most in a single year in at least a decade, according to numbers compiled by the Federal Railroad Administration. Since 2006, 194 people have been killed while on railroad tracks in the state, an average of more than 17 a year.
None of last year’s fatalities in North Carolina were linked to photography, Cannell said, though there were at least five cases nationwide.
In general, Cannell said, about a third of people hit by trains are impaired by drugs or alcohol, about a third are suicides and about a third were simply distracted or unable to hear the train because of headphones.
“People expect a train to be really loud, but they’re quieter than ever before,” she said. “So you won’t always hear a train approaching.”
Railroad safety tips
▪ The only safe place to cross railroad tracks is at a designated public crossing with either a traffic sign , flashing red lights or a gate. If you cross at any other place, you are trespassing and can be ticketed or fined.
▪ Railroad tracks, trestles, yards and equipment are private property, and trespassers are subject to arrest and fine.
▪ 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.
▪ Trains overhang the tracks by at least three feet on both sides; 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 or obscured 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. Never walk around or behind lowered gates at a crossing, and do not cross the tracks until the lights have stopped flashing.
▪ Do not 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.
Source: Operation Lifesaver