Discussion related to commuter rail and transit operators in California past and present including Los Angeles Metrolink and Metro Subway and Light Rail, San Diego Coaster, Sprinter and MTS Trolley, Altamont Commuter Express (Stockton), Caltrain and MUNI (San Francisco), Sacramento RTD Light Rail, and others...

Moderator: lensovet

  by Spokker
The Sprinter light rail system down in San Diego County is hardcore about forbidding photography. The only problem, they forgot to tell anyone about it, haha. Their web site and even the city ordinance contains nothing about photography (they don't even address it), yet I was harassed and intimidated into stopping by NCTD security. They threatened to haul my ass away in handcuffs if I didn't delete my photos and video on my crappy five year old point and shoot camera. In any case, I repeatedly refused and after ten nervous minutes they let me go.

Since it doesn't get much ridership, you tend to hear about these things less on Sprinter, but I know of multiple people who have been harassed. You'd think they'd be more welcoming since the light rail system has little support in San Diego County anyway. I would think they need all the friends they can get.

Here are the photos that were too hot for TV apparently: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8579276@N0 ... 309729598/

I emailed the board of directors of NCTD and one actually responded fairly quickly with this reply:
First, thank you for taking the time to share your concern with our Board of Directors and Executive Director. I am sorry that you had a problem with our system, but unfortunately we live in a new era of heightened security and public transit has been identfied as a potential target. The security personnel correctly pointed out that this is a defensive position that our North County Transit District team has had to undertake to keep all our customers safe, especially during this holiday season. I will speak to our Executive Director to make sure that our rules are clearly posted, so that others don't have a similar challenge. Thanks for being a train enthusiast and again I am sorry that you had this problem, but our goal and responbility is to keep all customers safe. Best wishes, Dave

David W. Roberts
Member, Executive Committee
North County Transit District
I wonder if they are going to put it into writing that you will be intimidated if you take photos, haha.

I'm a big supporter of public transportation and I love trains, but I'm about to defect to my car because the proliferation of random bag checks here and photography bans are getting to be too much. It's only going to get worse as Homeland Security "cracks down" on transit. I would not be surprised if it gets to the point that you have to go through security every time you board a rail transit system, at least at the larger stations. I would think that anyone who has a car would stop riding transit at that point.
  by superbad
photography is not illegal.. I've been hassled about this in san diego once, and you know what? I just started taking pictures when they were not looking.... if they really want to harass me, they can talk to the judge and my attorney.
  by Tom6921
Plus the deletion of your photos is a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. If they don't have a bylaw banning it, you should contact the American Civil Liberties Union. (Thanks to them, we can take photos in Boston sans permit).
  by Head-end View
In 2006, I took photos of the San Diego Trolley at the Santee Town Centre and no one bothered me there. I'm surprised to hear that this is such an issue in the San Diego County area.
  by gprimr1
I looked through your pictures, and I noticed you had a cab ride. Is that what they were threatening you over? Or was it standing on the platform taking pictures?

Your platform pictures look like you were being safe, but the cab of the train, even if they have a glass door, generally on any railroad requires authorization to ride in. They could get mad at you if you were riding in the cab.

It is true that they can't ask you to delete your photos without a warrant.

My advice, since you have made contact with the board of directors, write a polite letter explaining how train watchers are not a threat to the system, and how, for example, the BNSF railroad has a "registered railfan" program, realizing that rail fans are not the enemy and that they can provide an additional set of eyes.

You could suggest that NTCD allow BNSF registered rail fans to photograph from safe areas (since BNSF does run on the line) or that NTCD develop a program. Perhaps they could model after Amtrak's photo policy. You could offer to work with him.

Here is the info on BNSF: http://www.citizensforrailsecurity.com/

If they are unreceptive, go to their public board meetings, bring some other rail fans, and speak out against the rules. Contact your representatives to the California General Assembly and the ALCU if this gets you no where. If you go to a board meeting, bring any documentation and emails. Ask that they be made part of the record of the committee.

Also, if you believe the officer's actions where truly out of line, you could file a complaint with his agency that employs him. I couldn't see if NTCD had it's own sworn police officers or not. The behavior you described I would expect more from a rent-a-cop. But keep in mind, if you do file a complaint, you would be on their radar. I would recommend going to the board and speaking. Use the political process.

Good Luck.