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Guilty of railfaning, nothing more

Posted by Steve Sweeney
on Monday, March 20, 2017

A BNSF Railway pair of switching locomotives help build an intermodal consist at North Yard in Denver, Monday, March 20.
So here’s the short version of what happened. 

On Monday, I was photographing Union Pacific and BNSF Railway yard operations from the sidewalk of a highway overpass in Denver’s northern reaches, when a Denver city policewoman rolled up and got out to talk to me about what I was doing. And so did three other patrol cars, including one from BNSF marked “K9.” They talked to me and then went away.

(Happened to your before? I now empathize, since this was my first time stopped by police without a broken headlight.)

A Google Maps map of where I stood Monday morning on West 48th Avenue in Denver.

Long version:

It was about 11 a.m. and the sky was cloudy to overcast with occasional sun bursts.

When the police officer rolled up, she said the department received calls of a person photographing trains from the overpass — which I was.

When I defensively said I was photographing from a public right-of-way, she responded, “I didn’t say you did anything wrong.”

She had to check to make sure … that I’m not a terrorist or a jumper.

I offered up a business card and explained that I take pictures of trains for Trains — for a living.

She then asked to see my driver’s license, which I gave her and she wrote down something… not sure what.

Then she started asking me about my photography.

“So you’re going for action shots? What is it about the light? Tell me about this yard?”

And I did.

I explained about sunlight, the doubled-edged sword of clouds, taking different angles, using different lenses, mentioned a little about yard operations, and so on.

And after a while, we shook hands, she gave me her name, wished me well, and then left — sort of. 

The four squad cars gathered on the same public street where I parked my car. A couple of officers got out to talk to each other as I watched from the bridge. I waited another five minutes. The officers eventually returned to their cars and stayed parked on the street. And so I walked off the overpass and drove away.

I slept on this last night and came to the conclusion that I was never in the “wrong,” even though the experience gave me the heebee jeebees. And, I think the officers were as friendly as could be given the situation that they had to respond to someone's call to their department.

I'm not sure what I would do differently if it happened today, but I've got a hunch that members of Trains Nation can make a few suggestions. Let me know below.

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