Stop the railway police!

There seems to be renewed efforts by train operators to prevent trainspotters – or indeed anyone else – from taking photographs or filming at rail stations. Both Virgin and National Express have been trying to restrict such activity but it is really incomprehensible why they should want to do so.

The notion that it is about security just does not hold water. First, photographs of stations are widely available and in any case a detailed knowledge of their lay out is not necessary for a terrorist attack. Not only are there archive pictures – just Google for images of any station – but also Google’s new features which give pictures of every street in the country make it unnecessary for potential terrorists to actually visit a proposed site.  Secondly, terrorists would hardly make draw attention to themselves by wandering around with cameras on their own.

But most importantly, everyone with a modern mobile phone has a camera on them all the time, many of which have the facility to make short video clips, too. It is absolutely impossible to stop people from taking photographs with them.

Therefore this is such nonsense that there must be some other reason behind it, but I cannot for the life of me figure out what it is.  Is it because operators fear bad publicity and don’t want images of their stations? I did a clip for More4 yesterday for an item on National Express cutting back on its catering and at one point the reporter was going to scrap the item because she was not allowed to film on the train. I told her that it was perfectly legal to do so on the train and she got legal advice which confirmed this, and did a piece to camera while sitting in her seat.

Therefore it is imperative that everyone challenges these arrogant operators trying to restrict our civil liberties. But crucially, too, their senior managers need to be challenged at every opportunity and not allowed to hide behind ‘security’ as an issue.

It was very amusing to see Richard Bowker try to defend restricting access to stations for trainspotters after he had been filmed driving a train full of them. The word hypocrite found itself into many blogs…

  • Richard Boyd

    Totally agree with your sentiments, Christian. The railway industry’s current hostility towards enthusiasts lacks any kind of coherent intellectual basis and probably only serves to make stations less safe, since anyone made to feel unwelcome is going to think twice about spending their leisure time there in future – so much for the “eyes and ears” of the patronising Guidelines for Rail Enthusiasts.

    Unfortunately this nonsense has now gone on far too long and it is pleasing to see the media taking an increased interest in the plight of enthusiasts, which proves that there are still some bastions of tolerance left in Britain today. Critically, the one thing that railway managers seem to fear more than terrorism is bad publicity and it is this which will hopefully bring this edifice of hypocrisy and self-deception crashing to the ground.

    Finally, it will be interesting to hear Chris Gibb’s response to a high profile case of harassment at Macclesfield recently, since Mr Gibb is well known for his active pursuit of Deltics in years gone by and still apparently travels on railtours hauled by these locos.

  • Tim Rogers

    Agree with you here Christian.

    Also, Mr Bowker also has in the past had a thing for Class 40s as well so is a bit of an enthusiast himself. He really should know better.

  • Boardey

    Nothing new getting moved on.
    Trainspotting many years ago at Manchester Exchange, and we got thrown off.
    Mind you we were only 11.

  • Paul O

    Remember back in the 1970’s / 80’s when East was bad and West was good and one example held up was Eastern European policemen in military uniforms stopping media crews filming in public places especially railway stations, now the wall is down and it seems to have gone the other way, they are really laid back in Poland and this country has become a cctv police state living under a climate of fear.

    Here is a recent incident that made the Manchestaert Evening News, All peoople are to blame even staff at the bottom who “Carry Out Order” a lot of people tried that defence at the Nuremburg trials and they were shot a few days later, your either for democracy or your against it, we are entering very dark time and we all have to fight to uphold our freedoms and liberty.

    Here ios the video.

    Edmund Tan was asked to stop taking pictures of trains.

  • Chiltern User

    For the full Manchester Evening News report of 19 March 2009 about the Macclesfield affair, see

    This is followed by 100 on-line comments, including one from Mr Tan reporting that, since the story came out, the regular manager at the station have told him his is welcome to take photos at the station whenever he wishes.

    On the positive side, Virgin unlike National Express seeks to check tickets on trains and is not obsessed with automatic barriers. They were taken out at Coventry and there is (at present) no attempt to spoil the fine design of the Birmingham International concourse (London Midland Region Architect, 1976) by putting any in there.

  • I saw the BBC report about Mr Tan on their news web-site, and was quite incensed to find that this is still going on after all that’s been written about it in the railway press lately. I tried to express my thoughts in my own journal but I’m not sure how well I succeeded; nevertheless, here’s what I wrote:

    “There’s been a lot about this issue (though not yet this particular incident) in the railway press lately. The powers-that-be have seemingly decided that no-one is allowed to take pictures of trains, or even to take photos on railway property, without permission, because it apparently constitutes a ‘security risk’. Over the past few months, there have been numerous reports in the railway magazines about enthusiasts and photographers being instructed to stop taking photos at stations, and some have even had their films and memory-cards confiscated. I’m sure the utter ridiculousness of this doesn’t really need explaining, but go into any bookshop and you’ll find dozens of books on railways, illustrated with innumerable photographs of trains taken without permission on railway property, all taken by potential ‘security threats’, presumably. People have been photographing trains since the very invention of photography, and thousands of books have been published containing nothing but photos of trains. I have dozens of them on my own bookshelfs! As far as I’m aware there is not and never has been any restriction on taking photos in public places, except during wartime. Not only do I consider any such restriction on personal freedom absurdly pointless, but it’s police-state authoritarianism gone way over the top. What’s ‘Big Brother’ going to clamp down on next? No taking pictures of buses? Canal-boats? Bicycles? No pictures of giraffes or golf-balls, perhaps? That would make about as much sense.

    “The worst of it is, I’m actually afraid to take photos of trains myself now – something I’ve enjoyed doing all my life and have never thought to ask permission for – for fear of encountering the law. Perhaps I should wear a t-shirt which says ‘Do I look like a f*!!*ng terrorist?’ in big writing! One thing’s for sure: I won’t be asking permission to do something that’s perfectly legal – or should be – in a supposedly-free society.”

    I wonder what Eric Treacy, Ivo Peters or Derek Cross, to name but three, would have made of being labelled a ‘security risk’?

  • RapidAssistant

    I think National Express’ behaviour on this matter is endemic of a struggling operator who is paranoid about the slightest possibility that they could be losing revenue, when in fact probably well over 95% of passengers pay their way. And with the risk of prosecution, penalty fares, and of course getting shafted for a full fare open ticket by the conductor is probably enough to deter most people from taking the mickey.

  • Nigel Frampton

    The problem doesn’t only affect rail enthusiasts:-

    I suppose one should be pleased that there is so little crime that the police, etc, have time to deal with non-crimes in such a heavy handed way – except that it is not actually like that.

    A search in Google for “photographers’ rights UK” reveals a number of sites, some of which have documents that can be downloaded and some photographers find it useful to carry a copy with them – to refute the dubious claims of the ‘jobsworth’ security people, police etc.

    The rail (and other transport operating) industries are basically barmy if they don’t encourage sensible enthusiasm. For example, enthusiasts sometimes see things that members of staff miss. I once saw smoke coming from an axlebox on a goods train that passed through a station where I was waiting for a train. When I reported it to the member of staff, he got on the phone immediately to the signalling control. Young enthusiasts may also become the employees of the railway in the future – but if discouraged, they will surely go elsewhere. Or (this case related to a bus operator) one enthusiast was quicker to respond to criticism in the press of the operator, than the operating company itself!

    The anti-photography attitude will also antagonise other people – passengers, tourists, etc – exactly what the industry doesn’t need. As you say, it is incomprehensible why the rail authorities should even think of doing this.

  • RapidAssistant

    Put it this way – there are plenty of ways of immobilising or terrorising a railway without having to go anywhere near a station.

  • Richard Boyd

    Looks like matters are starting to come to a head. Tom Harris MP has just tabled an Early Day Motion concerning the treatment of railway enthusiasts:

    Anyone wishing to contact their MP with a view to getting him/her to sign should start by going to:

    Secondly, a petition to No. 10 which I started last year regarding the problem now has 2200 signatures. However, more are always welcome and the petition can be viewed here:

    It really does feel like the industry is on the defensive about its treatment of enthusiasts at the moment so now is definitely not the time to do nothing!

  • Dan

    Yes, this is a total farce. I suspect it is because security staff and their cohorts have little to do (or little they want to do) and thus challenging people relieves the boredom of their jobs.

    The sad fact is that there are always incidents of yobs yelling and shouting at stations and on trains (basic anti social behaviour, stuff that puts other passengers off and thus directly harms TOC business), people smoking in areas they should not do, ne’er do wells hanging about looking for bikes to nick etc, and I’ve often seen all this behaviour going on in plain sight of groups of BTP officers, or staff, or private contractor security gaurds – and they simply don’t bother to challenge it – I gues because they don’t want the hassle of dealing with drunks etc, or petty criminals – yet this is what they have been employed to do. I suppose it is more than their jobs worth!

    I’m sorry if this offends BTP officers and staff who really do try to tackle these issues, but sadly that does not come across to me as a regular user of the network and thus inevitably spends time waiting at stations for trains and connections seeing stuff going off that no one tackles, yet who should be employed to tackle.

  • “One of our younger readers reports that three of his school friends were picked up by police because they were plane spotting near Heathrow Airport. The 14 year old lads and one boy’s 10 year old sister were bundled into a police car and taken to a local police station for questioning. They were given a stern warning not to indulge in such activities again and taken back to their homes in a marked police car.”

    “It seems a lifetime ago that Poland was a police state. A policeman was someone who could beat you up with impunity and who would receive no official sanction if he shot you if you attempted to run away. An elite network called the nomenklatura controlled everything including the communist party. The party controlled what happened in the Polish Parliament and what could be printed in the newspapers. There was an opposition of sorts, but its activities were controlled too.

    The culture was about control. A climate of fear and watching your back prevailed. Everything – that was not specifically permitted in some law or regulation – was forbidden. Information only flowed one way – from the top. Without an effective feedback channel – criticism could get you sacked or worse – projects over ran budgets and time-scales, bad decisions were followed by even worse corrective action. Corruption and nepotism were endemic.

    Britain with its tolerance of eccentrics, friendly bobbies, brilliant BBC, London Times Manchester Guardian and ‘my word is my bond’ culture was a beacon of civilisation. How things have changed in less than half a century!”

    “Do please write to your MP asking him to sign the motion. Something like this (don’t use the exact words!) should do the trick.

    In spite of their dedication to the survival of Britain’s railways, the instances of harassment – and even arrest – of railway enthusiasts are increasing. Please sign the Early Day Motion tabled by Tom Harris, MP calling on Network Rail and the train operating companies to respect the legal rights of members of the public to pursue their interests at stations.

  • Nigel Frampton

    Interestingly, there was a report yesterday evening on one of the main German TV channels concerning the spread of CCTV cameras in Britain. Naturally, the film crew photographed some of the cameras, and at one point some security clown appeared and told them that they were not allowed to film the CCTV cameras!

    The significance of this shouldn’t be lost – Britain’s economy is in free fall, the pound is going the same way – but one positive aspect could be that Britain becomes more attractive as a destination for foreign tourists. Britain is no longer such a rip off, so Germans might perhaps be tempted to think about Britain for a holiday, despite the weather and the food. So what do the Brits do? Shoot themselves in the foot by turning the country into a modern version of the Soviet Union, or more specifically for the Germans’ benefit, the DDR (East Germany). Germans, in particular, tend to be sensitive to this sort of thing, and it is very likely to put them right off the idea of coming to Britain.

    Sometimes I weep for what my native land has become. Once again, Britain is the laughing stock of Europe. Justifiably. As the presenter said at the end of the report last night, “..all that in the land of Magna Carta.”

  • Richard Boyd

    Funny how the general public aren’t allowed to take pictures of security cameras yet the producers of “The Bourne Ultimatum” were allowed to include several shots of such cameras at Waterloo at the beginning of the film. Sounds a bit like security concerns go out of the window when money changes hands.

  • Alan Unwin

    No change in Transport Police methods in all these years then (since I was a guard over thirty years ago).
    Avoid any sort of hassle with real criminals and and nick anyone hamless/gormless/simple that is hanging around – eg spotters (no offence to enthusiasts, you keep interest alive in the subject, a useful function, which is something BTP and Network Jarvis, sorry Rail, don’t seem to have.

  • RapidAssistant

    In the BTP’s defence, I was on an Aberdeen – King’s X service on National Express a month ago, and there were two carriages full of drunken stag party-goers (heading for Newcastle inevitably – and I got on at Dundee – God knows what state they’d be in by the time they got to their destination, but that’s another story). Anyway, things were getting rowdy and the train guard summoned the BTP to be ready to board the train at Edinburgh which they duly did and passed up and down the aisles all the way to Newcastle – certainly quietened down what would have been a pretty awful experience for those that were unlucky to have been booked into the same coach as the stag brigade!

  • Amir

    Prob late to add my bit but I do think automatic barriers are a pain in the arse. They stop people seeing releatives away and to be honest they might make more people pay for a service but to be honest wouldn’t they have paid if a guard comes through asking for tickets.

    And if someone wants to desparatly get home they will buy a single to the next stop and just stay on the train or just double up behind someone else!

    On metros without guards fair enough but with long distance there should be no barriers at all. If they want to do a revenue block i.e 5 ppl standing at the entrance gate to check tickets issue penalties then fair enuff and why not extend penalties nationwide. Not everyone even on a train without a ticket is a fare dodger sumtimes ppl couldn’t use the machines or were a bit late catching the train!

    Stations should be open so people can wonder around and meet people arriving and see people away. Not going to happen though!

  • Ron C.

    The train operators are missing out on a money making opportunity by using barriers at stations. If the got rid of them, and got their on-train ticket checkers to do their jobs, they would probably make quite a bit via penalty fares.

  • RapidAssistant

    For the long distance operators in particular to put in ticket barriers is a fallacy – as I think Amir was alluding to. Now that even off-peak fares have become so high, and the full-fare ones that you can only buy on the train are even worse few people would risk trying to fare dodge anyway.

    And anyway – the old fashioned magnetic strip technology that the barriers still rely on is too crude to prevent one of the biggest headaches that the long distance operators face – stopping people with Advance tickets from getting on the wrong train!