May 7 2010

Union Station, Los Angeles

Did I mention that my train was running ahead of schedule?  One thing that seemed consistent with Amtrak trips I’ve read about or been told about, is that delays are very common.  Some trains are delayed for hours because of all kinds of issues, but the most common is because Amtrak shares tracks with freight trains and often, passenger trains have to wait for them to pass.  “Sharing” isn’t even the appropriate word, as the freight companies own the track and are required by law to let Amtrak run trains on their track.  This requirement seems to be a bit disdainful, and freight operators have no problem making Amtrak wait.  Most of the right-of-way from Oakland to Los Angeles was singletrack, and we passed a number of trains on the way down, so I can see how this could be a frequent issue.

On my trip, however, it was not.  I got to Union Station 45 minutes early.  Of course, I started taking photos immediately after getting off the train:

I made it about 100 yards, and while taking this photo of the ceiling, I was stopped by two sheriff’s officers:

“I’m sorry, you aren’t allowed to take photos in here”.

This was the first time I had heard of this policy.  I have taken literally hundreds of photos in LA’s Union Station over the years and I’ve never been stopped.  I could have argued with them, but I didn’t.

Before I left for my trip, I had sent emails to the press contact numbers for Amtrak. Honestly, I was hoping they’d love my idea and offer me and Jesse (a writer who was originally planning on joining me) free tickets, but it didn’t really work out that way.  However, my contact at Amtrak did offer to write an official letter that I could show to train crews explaining what I was doing and effectively acknowledging that Amtrak gave me permission to take photos.  I honestly didn’t think I’d need it as I’ve taken many trains before and have never had a problem taking photos.  But, I gladly accepted the letter, printed it out, and put it in my backpack.

Back in Union Station, I shrugged off the officer and told him that Amtrak had given me permission.

“Can I see your permit?”  The officer asked, rather sternly.

“Uh, yeah, sure”.  I said.  I rummaged around by backpack, found the letter, and gave it to him.  He looked at it, read a bit of it, looked at me, frowned, and handed it back.

“Thank you sir.  Have a great night!”

And he walked off.

I don’t know how long this policy has been in place, but not only was it recent, but it was enforced completely across-the-board.  Private security guards, LAPD officers, and transit police all stopped me in the few hours I was shooting in the station.  I was stopped seven times, sometimes one right after another.  A few times, a security guard simply said “okay”, and walked off after I told him I had permission, but other officers were more skeptical.

Maybe it’s the long hair.

More photos after the jump. Continue reading