UK aviation and even Russian Railways openly welcome hobbyists, so why can’t we? – Monday July 26 20
Regular RAIL readers will be aware of our long-running campaign to persuade Network Rail – and especially our train operators – to regard hobbyist photographers as friends rather than potential terrorists to be hassled and harried.
Here are two lessons which those who harass hobby rail photographers should read carefully and think about quietly. First, thanks to RAIL reader Russell Richards, of Chelmsford, who pointed out this story to me.
It’s a fantastic report about how Essex police are working with planespotters to combat crime at Stansted, by recruiting them as extra pairs of eyes – and even going to the length of issuing them with ‘Planewatch’ cards when they enrol in the anti-crime scheme as trusted partners.
The scheme was set up for Stansted after police saw similar effective schemes amongst planespotters at Luton at Gatwick. It would be good to see BTP and ATOC take a similarly mature and engaging view, rather than, at best, tolerating the railway hobbyists who have the rail industry’s best interests at heart.
In my career in railway journalism, I’ve been lucky enough to go photographing railways in the eastern bloc in the sensitive days immediately after the Iron Curtain came down in Russia and what had East Germany. I’ve had teenage conscripts clutching Kalshnikov assault rifles smile and wave and make us feel welcome in the Caucuses, east of the Black Sea, not far from Georgia.
I’ve also photographed railways on two occasions in Communist China, in Beijing, in Szechuan, Huanan and Inner Mongolia. Yes, you had to take care near military installations, or around prisons, police stations and in Tiananmen Square itself, or around the gateway to Beijing’s Forbidden City, where some soldiers did get rather excited, I must confess.
But nowhere on China’s railways did I ever feel as self-conscious and awkward with a camera as I do now here, in my own country, thanks to the too-often hostile attitude of railway staff to anyone with what they regard as a ‘professional’ camera. Which to these jobsworths means anything that doesn’t look like a mobile phone.
At busy town, city or terminus stations, goods yards massive and tiny, ural stations, locomotive depots, workshops or anywhere on the lineside in China, I can safely say I never encountered any trouble with officialdom. And that included, it seemed, being able to walk off any platform, largely cross the track where you wanted and I noticed some people unobtrusively enjoy the freedom to climb on the occasional ladder or suitable rail vehicle to get a better vantage point. Compare this tolerance with what comes across here as a paranoid belief that we’re all about to march of the platform end and off down the main line – with or without a camera!
Thus, I was fascinated to see, in today’s emails, the latest missive from Russian Railways, which has taken recently to sending me all its press releases. I was about to bin it unread when I noticed the headline: Rules for filming and photography at Russian Railways facilities
I stopped for a closer look and it It makes fascinating reading. Here it is in full:
The Russian Federation has strict laws on TV, video, and film shooting, as well as photography, at infrastructure sites of general use. To avoid misunderstandings and undesirable situations, we would like to inform you of the rules for filming and photography at facilities owned by Russian Railways.
These rules do not apply to filming and photography intended for personal use and carried out in passenger service areas at mainline and minor stations or stopping points, if they do not interfere with or compromise the safety of passenger movement.
For filming or photography by an individual or company, an application must be sent to the Russian Railways Corporate Communications Department. The application must be written on the organization’s official paper, with the signature of the director, and the organization’s stamp. The application must include the following information: - goals and tasks of filming/photography - a brief description of the planned footage - location - facilities to be filmed/photographed - date and time of filming/photography - names of crew taking part - full name and phone number of individual responsible for the work
In exceptional cases, for a swift decision on filming or photography, an application can be sent by fax or e-mail. Applications must be submitted at least 15 working days before the start of filming/photography.
Applications from foreign media must include a copy of their accreditation issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry. In cases where an application is submitted by a foreign individual or company without accreditation from the Russian Foreign Ministry, it must be accompanied by copies of the passports and visas of all participants.
Filming or photography at official Russian Railways events is conducted by media representatives on the basis of accreditation from the Corporate Communications Department. Permission may be refused if the filming/photography interferes with the work of the railway, compromises the security of services or safety of passengers, is detrimental to the quality of passenger services or working conditions of staff, or under force majeure circumstances.
Now, I recall that the Association of Train Operating Companies spent forever and a day trying to agree guidelines for hobby photographers, so here’s something to make it easy. This is what the railways in the former land of Stalin expect of their railway enthusiast photographers:
"These rules do not apply to filming and photography intended for personal use and carried out in passenger service areas at mainline and minor stations or stopping points, if they do not interfere with or compromise the safety of passenger movement."
So, why not just adopt the single sentence second paragraph of three dozen or so words as our own policy towards hobby photographers?
If it’s good enough for Russia, surely it’s good enough for us?