There seem to be a whole lot of people out there - photographers and their clients, as well as, amateur photographers - who think pictures on train tracks are really, really cool and seem to think the tracks are public property, so they just need to pay attention and nobody will get hurt. I used to be one of those photographers. Then one of my fellow photographers, someone I knew personally, was ticketed for trespassing on private property during a session. He AND his client both received $10,000 tickets. Yep, you read that correctly ten THOUSAND dollars! EACH!! It turns out that the tracks, all tracks that are currently in service and many that are not, are private property of the railroad company. Then there's the fact that it takes a mile or more for a train to stop and the fact that about 500 people per year are killed on the tracks (that's more than 1 per day!). When you realize that some days you can only hear a train when it's about 1/2 a mile away and the pictures are a whole lot better when there's a little bend in the track, it gets really scary really fast. Not surprisingly, the railroad companies don't want to be sued for negligence, they don't want their crew or passengers (or equipment, for that matter) to be harmed and they just don't want any more needless deaths and injuries. Taking all of that into consideration, it's kind of hard to understand why so many people still believe the tracks are public property and setting their three year old on them is a good idea. I agree, it does make a great photograph, but only if everyone involved is truly safe and nobody is breaking the law.
So what's a photographer to do when a client calls and really wants this environment? First, make sure the client is educated on why they can't just go to a local crossing and take some pictures. It would be terribly sad if they went on their own and a tragedy happened. Then find a place where it IS legal and safe to make the image they want. In my area, that place is a city park. The railroad track is out of service and has been disconnected from the other lines. It is on city property and city law allows anyone to photograph there without a permit. Your city may be different, check your local laws and search for abandoned tracks.
Then go out and create those awesome images that clients love. These are some of my recent ones. I've been photographing Conor and Talon for about three years and they both LOVE trains. They know that any time they come to Mrs. Rebecca's to have their pictures made they will get to play with my train set, so it made perfect sense to take them down to the park for their 3rd & 4th birthday sessions and put the toy trains on the big track. They are both such sweet boys and three and four is a perfect age to get pictures that preserve the focus they have when experimenting and learning about their world. Can't you just see the wheels turning in their heads?