SEPTA: Don’t Take Selfies on Train Tracks

A recent study found that train tracks are the third deadliest place to take selfies.

By Jim Pickerell, 1936-, Photographer (NARA record: 4588217) - U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain,

SEPTA tracks in Philadelphia’s Northwest suburbs. | Jim Pickerell, (NARA record: 4588217)U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain.

Chances are you’ve seen more than one photo of a young couple strolling aimlessly along a set of old-wooden train tracks. The images are iconic, they’re romanic — and they’re risky. While train track pictures are a photographer’s dream because of the elegant converging lines and scenic backdrop, they’re also a train engineer’s worst nightmare.

As the weather warms up, and the trees begin to bloom, SEPTA is attempting to discourage spring photographers looking to hold such photo shoots from heading to the tracks. 

“When it comes to train tracks, there is no picture-perfect setting,” said Scott Sauer, SEPTA’s Assistant General Manager of System Safety in a press release. “In fact, if you take photos or shoot video on the tracks, that picture or film might be the last footage you take. Tracks are for trains. They are not photo or movie studios.”

His statement is grim but it’s based in fact. Trespassing is the leading cause of rail-related deaths. In 2007, the Federal Railroad Administration found that 56 percent of all fatalities were trespassers. As SEPTA notes in its press release, a Priceonomics study found that train tracks are the third deadliest place to take selfies. That’s right behind falling from heights and drowning. (Side note: 2 of 49 selfie deaths they cite were from a grenade accident.)

Priceonomics explains that many of the deaths resulted from young adults with daredevil mentalities. “In pursuit of the ultimate profile pic, stick-yielding youths often go to extremes: They perch themselves on cliffs. They pose beside wild animals. They play chicken with oncoming trains,” wrote Zachary Crockett. For many of these photographers that are in pursuit of the perfect picture that will bring in “many likes” on Facebook and Instagram, safety comes second.

“A lot of these so-called selfie deaths can be blamed more on carelessness than photography,” Morgan O’Rourke, a risk management professional told Priceonomics. “You have to be careful about taking shortcuts when trying to determine what is and isn’t threatening.”

When it comes to trains, Sauer insists that there is no room to take chances.

“No one should ever assume that there is a time when tracks are completely clear of train traffic. A train can come on any track at any time in any direction,” said Sauer.

He added that even if the engineer sees a trespasser, by that time it’s often too late for the train to stop. “You can’t slam on the brakes and expect a vehicle that large to stop instantaneously … and trains can’t swerve around a person or object in its path,” Sauer said.

Furthermore, with trains becoming increasingly faster and quieter, often trespassers won’t hear them coming, Sauer told Philadelphia magazine in January for a different story.

Such is what happened last September when 16-year-old John DeReggi and his girlfriend posed for photographs along a picturesque train track in Maryland. ABC news reports that it wasn’t long into the shoot when a 70 mph Amtrak train surprised the pair and a female student photographer. The wind from the train pushed the two girls back, but DeReggi, who was in the direct path of train, reportedly tried to jump out of the way but didn’t make it far enough.

SEPTA currently works with Operation Lifesaver to raise awareness and prevent further accidents of that kind.

Sauer also notes that taking pictures on platforms can be dangerous because they may interfere with passengers entering and leaving trains and the flash can momentarily blind engineers.

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