Since 1934 

The Oldest General Interest Railroad Enthusiast Organization in Chicago

(847) 251-2262  PO Box 8292  Chicago, IL 60680


Press Release       

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August 21, 2006

For Information Contact:        William M. Shapotkin, President


Railroad Fans Upset over New Rules on Photography


Chicago area railroad fans were upset over new rules issued last week by the Union Pacific Railroad prohibiting photography of trains, due to increased security concerns, from Metra station platforms.  This ban conflicts with the policy of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railroad, which at the same time is recruiting, registering and encouraging rail fans “to report suspicious activities, trespassers or individuals” to BNSF’s Resources Operations Command Center.


William Shapotkin, President of The Railroad Club of Chicago, said, “For almost 75 years we have been photographing every aspect of railroad operations in the city and its suburbs, and present monthly programs of photographs taken by and for our members, usually during the summer months.  UP is targeting those who are most likely to observe, and report something out of the ordinary.  We have always agreed to stay off of railroad property, which could be unsafe, and stay in a public location.”  Charles Paidock, another member who was unaware of the new rules, said, “I was out photographing UP, and other trains over the weekend at a rail junction on the southwest side of Chicago.  I don’t know, are we allowed to photograph BNSF or CSX trains, but not UP?”  The club maintains that passenger platforms are “public” and not “private” areas, since the pubic is invited to use the stations.  The situation is the same as photographing off a bridge, or from the street.  If one is standing on the right-of-way or in a rail yard, and we all agree that you are trespassing, then the rules are very different.


Other railroad fans point out that quality photographs can easily be taken using handheld camera telephones, which make such rules unenforceable. 


Similar bans have been tested in Baltimore and New York, and the proposed rules were withdrawn.  It was found that nothing in the statutes prohibits photography from public areas.  There is no federal law on this, and nothing from Homeland Security has been issued.  The U.S. Supreme court considers photography a part of free speech protected under the First Amendment. 


The Railroad Club of Chicago in particular and the railroad fan community in general is seeking a change in the rules so that there is not another episode such as took place last year, when two railroad fans were detained in Morton Grove, IL, while photographing trains from that town’s Metra station platforms. Release

Union Pacific bans photography from Chicago Metra station platforms

August 16, 2006

CHICAGO - Union Pacific Railroad has announced that with the recent increase in security concerns across the United States, it will no longer allow photography of trains from Metra station platforms in the Chicago area. Metra is the region's commuter-train agency.

"We recognize that railroad fans can be our eyes and ears out there," said UP spokesman Mark Davis. "But we live in different times. The number one concern for Union Pacific is the safety of everyone. Right now, and since 9/11, security has been heightened and increased. This is part of that effort." Davis added that, "This stuff about UP not liking railfans is not true. But we have to be as safe and secure as we can."

Metra was pulled into the photography-rights controversy last year when two railroad fans were detained by Morton Grove, Ill., municipal police and Metra police while photographing trains from the public train-boarding platforms at town's Metra station. That route, the Milwaukee District North Line, is owned by Metra. Union Pacific owns the property on its three commuter routes, and UP employees operate the trains under contract to Metra.

After the glare of publicity enveloped the Motron Grove incident, Metra recanted its position and publicly reversed its stance, saying it would allow photography of trains from its stations.

Metra spokesman Tom Miller today told Trains News Wire that as long as people are in areas accessible to the public, are acting in a safe manner, and are willing to provide identification if asked by authorities, that Metra has no problem with them taking photos. "But as far as the UP policy, we have no comment on that," Miller said.

UP might be on shaky legal ground if it attempts to enforce its ban. Attorney Walter Zullig, who did legal work for New York's Metro North Commuter Railroad, today told Trains News Wire, "There is nothing in statute that prohibits photography from public areas. There is no federal law on this, and nothing from Homeland Security. The U.S. Supreme Court considers photography a part of free speech protected under the First Amendment."

In a column that will appear in the October 2006 issue of TRAINS Magazine, Zullig writes that research has not turned up any state law on the subject in existence anywhere. According to Zullig, railfans have the legal and constitutional right to photograph whatever they please from locations "open to the public," which would seem to include Metra and other passenger-train-boarding platforms.

Maryland's MTA rapid-transit and commuter-train system has a photo ban on MARC commuter trains, which run on CSX and Amtrak trackage, as well as the Baltimore subway and light-rail systems, but Zullig believes there is no legal basis for the ban and is attempting to get MTA to explain its legal basis for it.

Both the New York City Transit Agency, which operates the city's vast subway system, and New Jersey Transit, which operates commuter trains and bus and trolley lines throughout the Garden State, attempted to adopt photography bans but withdrew their proposals after a flood of negative comments and threatened lawuits on constitutional grounds.

Public financial support of transit and commuter facilities may or may not have any bearing on the legality of such bans. In the Union Pacific instance, UP, a private railroad, contracts with Metra, a public entity, to provide the commuter-train service, on three routes out of Chicago. Metra uses tax money to fund the service and maintain the station facilities, including the train-boarding platforms.