A Bad Decade to Be a Railfan
May 20, 2004 9:50 PM   Subscribe

It's a bad decade to be a railfan. The latest overreaction to terrorism comes at the expense of train enthusiasts. As of this week, New York is now off-limits to traingeeks. In honor of this misunderstood hobby, here's some links to some railfan photo sites I enjoy.
posted by PrinceValium (18 comments total)
"NYC Transit also proposed banning passengers from using end doors to move from one subway car to another, putting feet up on seats and standing on skateboards on subways or buses, among other changes."

Anyone care to explain how putting one's feet on the seats constitutes a risk to national security? Also, while we're at it, I suggest banning all maps of the subway system and the signs indicating which train stops where. This is way too much information to have just floating out there for anyone to see.

On another more rational note, this is a terribly interesting subculture.
posted by mmcg at 10:12 PM on May 20, 2004

New York is now off-limits to traingeeks

That article you linked to says "[NYC] Transit officials on Thursday proposed banning photography on subways and buses."
posted by gluechunk at 11:47 PM on May 20, 2004

but its a great year to be a tsarfan
posted by tsarfan at 12:17 AM on May 21, 2004

Weapons of mass destruction found!
posted by vbfg at 1:53 AM on May 21, 2004

Yes, that is a very sharp pencil.
posted by spazzm at 2:31 AM on May 21, 2004

Homeland security has now announced that all visitors to Unitied States must wear blindfolds while entering the country.
posted by srboisvert at 5:37 AM on May 21, 2004

The first link is full of bad reporting:

"Meanwhile, in the UK the government has said there is a 'high probability' that international terrorists will sooner or later launch an attack — likely to focus on transport targets." Talk about vague.

It tells of one train fan being detained for questioning (summarizing a WaPo article, no original reporting) and then says, "But after the FBI announced it had credible reports that al Qaeda might be targeting railroads, a growing minority of railfans have been questioned and sometimes searched. Some have even been threatened with arrest, for pursuing a hobby they have embraced for years."

"A growing minority" What, the guy mentioned above?
posted by tippiedog at 6:46 AM on May 21, 2004

"The photo and video ban had been part of the rules on ridership until 10 years ago, when it was removed, NYC Transit spokesman Charles Seaton said. "
posted by smackfu at 6:48 AM on May 21, 2004

Well, as a photographer, I am not surprised that this is being codified. Anytime I take my camera out in the subway, I get yelled at. Mostly by the MTA workers who have told me that the subway is off limits. I always respond that I'm a tourist, and they seem to not mind so much. Police officers never seem to mind, usually I am taking photos of them, or of the buskers. I guess I don't really fit the profile they are looking for [being a short white kid]. I guess this means I need to finally find time [quickly] to shoot the brass figures at the 8th Ave L stop before the boom is lowered.
posted by plemeljr at 7:03 AM on May 21, 2004

So, how does not being allowed to take pictures in a public subway, and living in a free country compute?

I swear more and more stuff I read in the news of the US now reminds me of the stuff we used to point out about the U.S.S.R. and say how superior we were.

"Look, they won't even let those poor ruskies take pictures of subway platforms. Such a shame they can't be free like us."
posted by jester69 at 7:58 AM on May 21, 2004

What's really hilarious is the penalty, just a fine. Like Joe suicide bomber is going to be deterred by the possiblitity of a fine. They don't even mention confiscating his film. Though that is probably a moot point in these days of camera phones and wireless enabled high end digital SLRs.
posted by Mitheral at 8:34 AM on May 21, 2004

The subway drivers are worried that a dumb tourist will hit them with a nice bright flash when they take the picture. This could temporarily blind the driver and cause all sorts of dangers.

Unless the MTA is staffing each segment of each train with officers (doubtful) it should be possible to take pictures *inside* the train without issue. However, you do have to take into consideration the personal space of your fellow travelers.

Subway riders are typically busy going someplace. They are smart and aware of pranksteers and profiteers. They have enough dignity not to want to be the butt of some kid's practical joke. As a photographer, you need to convey that you are a professional, not a prankster.

OTOH, this is a perfect example of creeping US-PATRIOT-ACT-think. It seems perfectly reasonable to prohibit photography around transportation systems in order to thwart terrorist attacks. But a subway is a subway is a subway, and a dude with a camera is quite far down the list of dangerous threats. Once Dude-With-A-Camera-By-The-Subway becomes a terrorist, Dude-Width-A-Camera-By-The-Side-Of-The-Road becomes a terrorist. Followed by Dude-Near-A-Tall-Building. Of course, if you are using a camera indoors, you are probably creating illegal porn of some kind, so why not just ban all cameras?
posted by Kwantsar at 10:04 AM on May 21, 2004

Weapons of mass destruction found!
N. Korean rail explosion foiled missile shipment to Syria

Will have no problem watching trains at my current residence. 100 yds straight out my two story front door which allows viewing these locomotives. Two of them just had a collision putting the willies in me.

In Rosenburg Texas one of the last manned switching houses still exists. Which is a popular viewing spot. Have heard in the US, freight trains have no set schedules as Amtrak has the right of way. Which is supposedly is different from other countries.
Choo choo!, ring ding!, ring! ding
posted by thomcatspike at 10:22 AM on May 21, 2004

What's really hilarious is the penalty, just a fine. Like Joe suicide bomber is going to be deterred by the possiblitity of a fine.

Hilarious? How? Their plan is completely logical. It won't keep "joe suicide bomber" from doing anything, true. What would? A million dollar fine?

But it will keep joe tourist from filming the subway.

The small fine is not meant to keep out terrorist, nothing would. It's mean to keep out non-terrorist to make apprehension easier.

Not saying I agree with it, but the small fine makes perfect sense.
posted by justgary at 11:13 AM on May 21, 2004

The small fine is not meant to keep out terrorist, nothing would. It's mean to keep out non-terrorist to make apprehension easier.

I think part of the problem is that there is this tendency to eliminate thousands of legitimate uses of a public space in order to make capturing a single hypothetical terrorist easier.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:58 AM on May 21, 2004

Actually, thomcatspike, it's pretty much the other way around. Freight gets priority, and Amtrak trains are often stuck on sidings so the freight can go by, resulting in laughable schedules. For example, Amtrack is supposed to come through my humble little town at 1 am one direction and 2 am the other direction, but it's usually more like 4 am and 5 am. And yes, the train only comes through my town once a day.

Oh, and to steer this back on topic, this policy is teh suck, for the reasons that KirkJobSluder, justgary, and Kwantsar so eloquently state.
posted by keswick at 3:37 PM on May 21, 2004

So let's see. A hypothetical terrorist decides he needs to photograph his next target. Does he:
A) Buy a film or high resolution digital camera, such as often used by rail enthusiasts (who often persue their passtime with photographic results in mind). Then stand in plain sight slowly composing his pictures for best effect, waiting so the light is good and his object of interest is poositioned just right.
B) Go to any electronics store in the USA and for a couple of hundred bucks buy a digital camera that can take usable images in low light, fits in the palm of his hand or a pants pocket, can store a few dozen images on a memory stick the size of his thumb and takes his pictures quickly and with no-one ever noticing.

A) must be right, because they've banned photography, so B) is impossible.
posted by normy at 4:42 PM on May 21, 2004

keswick, my memory (and this google result) agrees with thomcatspike — that passenger trains have priority. It doesn't mean they can't be delayed by freight trains, I suppose. (And FWIW, this page disagrees, saying that the freight companies who own the rails give their own traffic priority, at least in the West.)
posted by hattifattener at 12:12 AM on May 23, 2004

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