It was just over a year ago that Amtrak revised its photo policy after dishing out a healthy settlement to Duane Kerzic; the photographer who was arrested by Amtrak police while participating in an Amtrak photo contest.
It was a humiliating moment for Amtrak, who had to endure the mockery of The Cobert Report to a laughing national audience.
A few weeks later, Amtrak revised its photo policy, stating that photography “is permitted within public access areas on Amtrak property.”
But now we’re receiving word that Amtrak is no longer allowing photography from its train platforms, which is a public access area.
According to Trains magazine columnist Don Phillips, who attended an Amtrak town hall meeting in Chicago last month, Amtrak officials specifically forbade railfans from taking photos from train platforms.
Phillips acknowledges that non-railfan passengers are allowed to take photos, but doesn’t specify why railfans are being discriminated against.
Amtrak’s sad blunder in continuing its sad policy that railfans can’t take pictures on Amtrak open-air platforms. This accomplishes nothing and actually takes one small step in removing some of our freedoms. A platform is public unless there is a compelling reason (perhaps a chemical spill) to evacuate the area, or unless some railfan does something stupid like walking in the middle of the tracks. In those cases, there should be removals. Lets also make no mistake about it. This rule is aimed ONLY at railfans. Terrorists would never make an open spectacle of themselves, and the rule says it’s perfectly fine for passengers or their families to take photos on the platform of Aunt Jane or cousin Joe boarding the train.
Complicating the matter even more is that Amtrak is currently hosting a video contest, encouraging passengers to shoot video from both inside and out the trains.
Of course, contests never guaranteed protection to photographers.
The article that was published in the actual magazine even went into more detail than the online version, quoting a cop who spoke against the policy. That article was sent to me in an email.
The magazine article contained the following five paragraphs, which was tacked on at the end of the online version. It would probably make sense to read the online version, at least beginning with paragraph six to get an understanding of the following paragraphs.
But why listen to me? Let me turn to a note from another veteran
police officer, part of which I repeat below by permission. I will close
with this note because I can’t improve on it. The note comes from
John DeLora, who just retired after 30 years as a police officer with
a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. For his last eight years, De-
Lora was the Homeland Security Liaison for Detroit Public School
District Police, and was the planning and training officer for 60 fully
sworn police officers and more than 350 unsworn security officers.
“When any kind of criminal incident happens, police need as
much information as possible. As an investigator, I want to know
what cars were parked where, who was in the area, and what was left
where and when. When an incident occurred near one of our buildings,
we’d ask students if anyone got photos on their cell phones. It
is rare that we got a shot of the perpetrator in action, but we did get
photos of people in the area who are potential witnesses, and we
also got photos of cars that were in the area, giving us valuable
sources for further leads.
“Amtrak’s photo policy eliminates these potential investigatory
leads. The idea that these rules will discourage terrorist activity is
pure naiveté. Any potential terrorist can get all the photo information
needed from Google satellite photos or by simply pretending to
take a picture of someone.
“Amtrak should be encouraging as much photography as possible.
Railfans should be encouraged to take photos not just of trains
and stations, but of undesirables who hang around some big-city
stations. This includes panhandlers asking for spare change plus
crackheads, winos, and junkies in the area. Seeing that people are
taking photos will discourage them from hanging around, and can
provide valuable leads to police when break-ins of cars parked in
the station parking lot occur.
“Finally, the photo policy may be Amtrak’s policy, but it is far from
being law. Photography is legal in any public place. Public places include
station parking lots, waiting rooms, concourses, and platforms
without gates restricting access. Amtrak’s photo policy was likely developed
by a corporate law attorney, and in my opinion, probably one
who has never prosecuted a criminal case in a courtroom.”
DON PHILLIPS, a newspaper reporter for more than four decades,
writes this exclusive monthly column for Trains.
Maybe Amtrak will stumble upon this post and clarify the issue in the comments section.