random thoughts on railroad photography, railfanning, technology, and such

Entries from January 24, 2010 - January 30, 2010


Chasing Steel's Cajon Pass Railfan Map

In light of my recent attendance to Chasing Steel’s Cajon Pass Railfan Map (.PDF)a presentation given by Union Pacific’s Special Agent Mark Youngblood on the overall role of railroad police and, more specifically, the railroad right-of-ways through Cajon Pass,  which is within the San Bernardino National Forest, I have prepared a map of the pass that, hopefully, should shed some light on the access roads in the area that is open to the public.

The map is a mashup of various map sources showing topographical features, highways and local streets, railroad lines and location names, and the United States Forest Service roads throughout the area.  The USFS data came from their 2009 Motor Vehicle Use Map for the area.

The map is not meant to be a navigational tool, but rather a planning device to aid in route considerations and location accessibility.  Special Agent Youndblood recommends that railfans remain on the forest service roads only and those roads should be clearly marked with USFS signposts to indicate their use.  To view the most recent road/trail information visit these USFS SBNF web pages: 

I have also included the emergency numbers for the BNSF, Union Pacific, and Amtrak on the map.  I would recommend that you program those numbers into your cellphone so they are handy at a moments notice.  Please report any unsafe conditions you see, such as: shifted loads, dragging equipment, derailed wheels, trespassers, or suspicious persons or activities.

NOTE:  There is one forest road that is hard to see on the map and that road is 3N53.  This is due to the fact that it parallels the Union Pacific track south of Hiland.  It can be used to access most areas of the forest and can be easily reached off of Highway 138, the Pearblossom Highway.

Please contact me for any map corrections, concerns, or comments.  Happy hunting!


The New Rules of Railfanning: Don't Trespass, Be Alert, Report Issues

It wouldn’t take you long to find a post or a story, from any of the numerous rail-related websites on the web, that detail some railfan’s run-in with security personnel.  There has been a very discernible change in the attitudes towards railfans and the number of contacts of late and I wanted to find out why.

I gleaned, from one such site, that a Special Agent, from the Union Pacific Railroad, was going to be a guest speaker at the San Bernardino’s National Forest Association’s Off Highway Vehicles Program’s January monthly meeting. (Boy, that’s a mouthful!).

This was interesting to me for two reasons in particular.  The first reason is that a “Special Agent” for a railroad is, in fact, a full-blown police officer and is employed directly by the railroads as opposed to the contract “security” personnel that most railfans encounter.  And the second reason is that THIS particular Special Agent, Mark Youngblood, is one of the agents local to the Southern California area.  Not only is the southwest region “his beat,” but Agent Youngblood has approached many railfans recently, particularly in the Cajon Pass region.

I was told that he was going to give a presentation on Cajon Pass and railroad police work in general.  Not ever having any contact with railroad police officers in the past this was the perfect opportunity to find out what their issues are, from THEIR perspective, and, hopefully, share my thoughts.  (Something I am known to do!)

I made it to the January 13, 2010, meeting, which fortunately, was open to the public, with minutes to spare.  It was being held in a banquet room of a local restaurant.  The place was packed.  I ordered some dinner and waited for Agent Youngblood to take the podium.  Eventually he did just that.  I would like to summarize Agent Youngblood’s presentation so that we all can benefit from him taking his time to meet with us.

My Summation of Union Pacific Railroad Special Agent Mark Youngblood’s Presentation

As you would expect, Agent Youngblood began his presentation by touching on the high points of the celebrated history of the Union Pacific Railroad which is one of the two railroads that built the transcontinental railroad in the 1860’s.

He explained the duties of a railroad special agent and described their powers.  Here are the more salient points:

  • Railroad special agents are police officers and are commissioned by one or more states’ agencies as law enforcement officers.  Here in California, at the request of the railroad1, the Governor may grant these officers the powers of a peace officer as dictated in Penal Code 830.33(e).  Also, in California, this authority of these railroad police officers extends throughout the state.
  • The UP special agents work a myriad of cases and duties primarily involving trespassing abatement and enforcement, burglaries, train escort details, accident investigations, grade crossing enforcement, and vandalism.
  • Special Agent Youngblood define the term right-of-way as:  the furthest extent of service roads on either side of the railroad tracks, to include those cases where they need to go around a rise or cut.  It is not a set distance from the tracks per se.  He indicated that sometimes this may be as few as 20’ wide to 20 miles wide.  (This does present a problem to railfans as the delineation is not always marked.)
  • He explained how since the events of September 11, 2001, the railroads began to step-up ensuring that their infrastructure was as protected as possible.  This means a 100% enforcement of trespassing laws.
  • Railroad police officers are allowed to “police” the property and lines of any railroads that their employing railroads has track right agreements with.  So that means, here in Southern California, that BNSF and UP special agents can enforce laws on each other’s lines.
  • He explain that the most common reason for trespassing that he hears when encountering railfans is “we have been coming here for many years…”  Things are different today.  This isn’t the railroad of your childhood.
  • Liability issues and personal safety are also prime motivations to enforce the railroad’s property lines.  He cited several cases where railfans, and the public, had gotten too close to the tracks and a passing train and bad things have happened.  One incident involved a load on lumber on a flat car.  One of the he banding straps that hold the load together had sheared apart and was know hanging about 7 feet off of the train.  As the train passed a fan, the banding nearly cut the man in two!  He cited enough reasons for one to make sure they are far enough away from the tracks to prevent injuries or death; shifted loads and trailers, banding, derailed cars and more.

After his speech, he opened it up to questions.  The audience, all forest volunteers except me and Debra, asked a volume of questions relating to the vehicles the UP Police use to specific case that they were familiar about.  At one point someone has a question about railfans, “are they much of a problem?”  Special Agent Youngblood made an inaudible comment and sneered.  Then he acknowledged that they in fact were.  I saw this as my opportunity to introduce myself to him and the audience.

I raised my hand and he fielded this statement from me:  “Hi, I am Joe Perry.  I am one of those railfans that you are referring to.  Based on the fact that the Union Pacific has such few agents covering such vast areas, my hope would be that the railroad would take a more positive approach towards us railfans because we are out there track side watching what is happening.  In many respects we are another pair of eyes for you guys.  Are you familiar with the BNSF’s Citizens for Rail Security Program?”

He nodded in agreement yet his comment, which unfortunately escapes me, did not reflect that he understood the question.  I decided to let it be since I felt as an outsider and didn’t want to bogart the meeting.  For the uninitiated, here is an excerpt from a BNSF press release that outlines the program:

News Release

BNSF Railway Asks Rail Fans for Cooperation To Keep America’s Rail System Safe

FORT WORTH, TEXAS, June 7, 2006:

BNSF Railway Company (BNSF) is recruiting rail fans to help keep BNSF properties safe by reporting suspicious activities and to help prevent possible security breaches.

“Keeping America’s rail transportation network safe from crime and terrorist activity is a high priority for the railroad industry,” says William Heileman, BNSF general director, Police and Protection Solutions. “Every day across the country, rail fans photograph and watch trains as they pass through communities. It seems natural to harness their interest to help keep America’s rail system safe.”

Rail fans can register for the program by going to the Citizens United for Rail Security (CRS) Web site (http://newdomino.bnsf.com/website/crs.nsf/request?open). CRS participants will receive an official identification card along with access to news and information on the BNSF CRS Web site.
To report suspicious activity, CRS members and the public can call (800) 832-5452. The information will be taken by a BNSF representative and routed for appropriate response.

I wasn’t aware if the Union Pacific Railroad had a similar program or adopted this insight at a public level or not.  My hope was that Special Agent Youngblood would advise me if railfans were an acknowledged positive part of the Union Pacific Railroad’s strategy to keep their infrastructure safe and not viewed as a thorn in it’s side.  

This answer was to remain unknown.  I had to leave the meeting earlier so I didn’t get a chance to personally talk with Special Agent Youngblood privately,  something I regret.  I am sure our paths will cross sometime soon again.

I want to thank the Union Pacific Railroad and Special Agent Mark Youngblood for participating in this meeting and taking time to help enlighten the public as to the challenges and effort required to keeping a core element of America’s infrastructure safe.

I also want to thank BNSF for their Citizen’s for Rail Security program and publicly acknowledging that everyone, railfans included, are part of this overall effort.  However, program or no program I am out there watching and I will report anything I see.  The photos and stories will be reported here.  The unusual events, activities, and persons, I will report to the railroads and the authorities.

I have taken away a renewed respsect for railroad police officers and more knowledge which should help me to stay off of railroad property, as we all should, and do my part.  I have included a link to a helpful document called The Photographer’s Rights prepared by Bert P. Krages II, Attorney At Law, which delineates the rights of us photographers.  I recommend everyone read it.




8226.  The Governor of the state may, upon the application of any 
railroad company, appoint and commission during his or her pleasure
one or more persons designated by the company, to serve at the
expense of the company, as police officers, who shall have the powers
and authority of peace officers listed in Section 830.33 of the
Penal Code, after being duly sworn. The company designating these
persons shall be responsible civilly for any abuse of their

8227. Every peace officer designated under Section 8226 shall, when
in uniform, wear in plain view a shield bearing the words "railroad
police," and the name of the company for which he or she is
commissioned. When on duty, but not in uniform, the peace officer
shall carry the shield upon his or her person and present it upon