12.9.13

ON ANY TRACK, AT ANY TIME, IN EITHER DIRECTION.

The Northwest Indiana Times thought it might be fitting to showcase the local football talent in an industrial setting.

Big mistake.
To illustrate the story, it chose to pose the players in a CSX Transportation yard in East Chicago, which later caught the eye of the railroad's special agent.

The photos show the players posing with shovels on tracks and railcars. One player is sitting on the coupler of a covered hopper, another is on a coil steel car, and there is a group photo posed on a flatcar with the photographer apparently on top of an adjacent railcar.
A coupler is a particularly unsafe place to be if something couples to the other end of the string, and standing atop a car that's not under a blue flag is a good way to get hurt.

Times executive editor William Nangle acknowledges the error.
The photos in the preview section show the players around, on and inside rail cars. It made for an interesting backdrop.

The problem is the rail yard is private property, and no one at The Times thought to secure permission to photograph there.

Worse yet is that in some cases, the photos depict players in situations that are deemed unsafe. In short, we left the players vulnerable.

In addition, trespassing at the rail yard is a criminal offense. That means the photographer and each player involved with the East Chicago photo session could be charged. Not a happy prospect.

Robert Mahan, of Cedar Lake, special agent in charge of the CSX Railroad Police’s Chicago Division, saw the preview section and came to see me. He pointed to the trespassing, the photos reflecting unsafe practices and the fact criminal charges could be leveled.

Well, the high school students can rest easy. Mahan is an understanding man and isn’t going to seek charges.

Instead, he wants a lesson to be learned — about trespassing on railroad property and how unsafe a railroad site can be without knowing proper safety procedures.

Those who labor daily in the rail yards know well of the dangers there and are trained to operate safely.

As for The Times, I apologize to the railroad and to the student athletes we unwittingly put in a bad situation.
The railroad track is no place to play.  Digital cropping and enhancement allow me to take train pictures from a safe distance, and bring the viewer closer in a way that is hazardous only to a few pixels.

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