Photographer Killed While Taking Pictures of an Oncoming Train

Tragedy struck Sacramento, California this past weekend after a photographer and high school art teacher was killed while taking pictures of trains.

Kathy Carlisle, a 52-year-old instructor at St. Francis High, was photographing an approaching train from an adjacent track when she was struck from behind by another train headed in the opposite direction.

After local news station KCRA reported on the sad story, viewers and readers immediately began to criticize Carlisle for risking her life for the sake of art, question why she couldn’t avoid the train (trains are very noisy, after all), and ask whether it was a suicide rather than an accident.

Here are a couple of the critical comments:

[…] why on earth was she standing between two tracks long enough to get hit. Get hit – that means she stood there as a conductor saw her standing in death’s way, had to have blown his horn – multiple times – but there she stood. She wasn’t “hit” by a train – she made a train conductor run her over – probably because she thought her art was worth the risk. What about the very human conductor who her choice not only also put at risk, but irrevocably damaged this man’s life. She did not have that right. Coming from a railroad family, our hearts and prayers go out to the condutor/s who were forced to gruesomely kill a woman toady – for her art. I do not mean to seem cold, but the true tragedy is that the art community will herald this woman as a true artist who died for her craft, when in truth, her actions should, and will be admonished. But that won’t do any good for a train conductor who has to live with what he had to do today because she wanted the “best” shot. What a shame for everyone, but this is not art and was not for the sake of art. It was reckless behavior that cost more than it was ever going to be worth. Raise her up, but don’t forget the victims she created as you praise her dedication to her art. [#]

Sorry, but I’m not buying the ACCIDENT story. Pretty hard not to notice a FREIGHT TRAIN coming at you when you’re standing right on the tracks. Sad loss, but this was no “accident.” And if it wasn’t suicide. Somebody needs to give that lady a Darwin Award! [#]

While it’s true that a speeding train is loud, and that a conductor who sees a person standing on the track in the distance will blow his horn as a warning, what the commenters haven’t factored in is the fact that there was a second moving train in the story — the one Carlisle was looking at and photographing.

With so much noise and commotion, it’s entirely possible that Carlisle couldn’t hear the sound and feel the rumbling of the train behind her because those things were masked by the sound and rumbling of the train in front of her.

Thus, it seems likely that these commenters are both off base and that this story simply illustrates why you should never be standing on railroad tracks when photographing moving trains.

Thanks for sending in the tip, Albert

  • hesdt

    darwin awards

  • Brian Gray

    Sorry, but the argument that she could’t hear the train that hit her isn’t valid. Would the same excuse be used on a freeway/motorway?
    It’s a very sad story for her friends, family and the poor train driver that had to watch it happen but she so recklessly endangered her own life that I am very much thinking suicide.

  • kyoshinikon

    As an avid railfan it is important to know what you are doing around trains… Best bet is to STAY OFF THE RAILS!, No matter how beat up the track is if it is there it is to be assumed live. A train going 65mph looks like it is only going 30mph too

  • Korenwolf

    I’m afraid that I’m weighing in on the Darwin side. If you really must stand on the tracks then you need at least one and ideally two spotters who are checking both directions for you and will forcibly pull down the camera and get you to safety.

    That said doing what she did is illegal in the UK and I would suspect the same is true for the US.

  • Drunk Natums

    Real lesson here, trains are like cars, if you are in the lane with traffic not coming at you, turn around.

  • Anon

    I went to check out her online portfolio, to see if the shot was worth dying for.

    After 10 mins of clumsy navigation on a full-flash, music-enabled tacky and cheesy website – She should probably have stuck to shooting flowers and cats. Less dangerous, and at least they wouldn’t have made an “artistic martyr” out of what most photography would essentially refer to as a stupid fumbling amateur. (Stupid for taking risks, and making us all look bad with this kind of stuff, amateur because her work is objectively stale.)

  • Forrest Tanaka

    I’ve photographed near active tracks (never ON the tracks) a few times, and diesel locomotives are surprisingly hard to hear until they’re dangerously close. The bell and horn are much easier to hear than the engine, but if she was in a busy area she may have just tuned them out.

  • Anon

    Most photographers* my bad.

  • Pierce Anderson

    illegal to take photos of a train?

  • Melanie van Nunen

    I think Mrs. Carlisle had ‘miksang’ – Tibetian for ‘Good Eye’ – meaning when you take photographs you are in a meditative condition. You must have an ‘empty’ innerself to see the beauty of this world (and capture it). —> so she probably never heard the train coming. RIP from another photographer, the Netherlands.

  • Chris Popely

    Illegal to be on the tracks.

  • Keith D

    I wouldn’t call it ‘miksang’ so much as a lack of common sense. While it is a shame she died, it is a shame she did not think of the possible consequences that her actions might have on herself and her family/friends.

  • Melanie

    it’s a fact that when you take photographs you often ‘loose yourself’ doing so and yes, this can sometimes be dangerous, or stupid, but… it is what it is… she died in the harness so to speak.

  • Piotrek Ziolkowski

    I am pretty sure she was absolutely convinced she’s safe…so why would she think of the consequences? As a guy who has done a lot of dangerous stuff in my youth all I can say is this: 1 You either do something because you think it’s relatively safe or 2 you don’t because the risk is too high. She miscalculated or misjudged the situation and that’s it. Blaming anyone is pointless. People die all the time doing things they think are safe, normal etc… How is it different from car accidents, sport fatalities, or smoking?

  • Werner

    And do not forget the train driver and the guys in charge of recovering her body.

  • rcau

    the dangers of instagram

  • Werner

    So the lesson learned is: If you think it’s relatively safe, think twice. I made a lot silly thinks too when I was a young guy. With a few decades of life experience in back I would not even keep standing close to the rails when a train is coming. And if it is only because I do not want to alarm the train driver.

  • Brian Beck

    I have been near trains while taking photographs, you think that you could hear them, and you think that you would be able to feel them approaching, wrong on both counts. Being in between two tracks not the best of ideas, kinda like trying to stand on the white line on a busy highway. Condolences for all of the families involved.

  • Bjoern Schreiber

    Normally I don’t comment on fatal news, but…

    It is sometimes very very sad to see how stupidity claimed another victim(s). Standing on rails to take a picture is – oh I can’t write it politely. Also as a teacher she should have been aware that she is a role model for her students. What If nothing happened to her and a student tried it the same way with fatal results?

    Walking or standing on rails is just stupid and recless in so many ways.

  • madmax

    I did this in the past, both for video and stills but, as it was quite dangerous, used my camera timer and placed the camera between the rails. The results were quite good, but the wind created by the train passing can displace or even knock over the camera.

  • Jason Wright

    I think this teacher has just taught her students a valuable lesson.
    You are responsible for your own life.
    Don’t do stupid things like standing on rail tracks, no matter what the reason.
    There seems to be some belief that having a camera protects you from outside influences, we’ve all seen Photographers in the path of rally cars or near a Volcano and sometimes in busy roads. Don’t fool yourself as to your safety. There is nobody to blame but the person who does this, it’s sad, but lets hope people can learn from tragedy and keep themselves safer.

  • Logan Luckey

    gotta love those flipout screens they have these days

  • John

    Anyone thinking about a closeup crop of a train coming towards you, one word – Zoom…

  • John

    Yeah, in the end this darwin award 101 will come out good, at least for the students…

  • Patrick Onofre

    At least there’s no hyperbole usage in calling this a “tragedy”. Oh, wait…

    Not to be snarky, but it’s more of a tragedy for the poor train operator who could do nothing but watch and the people who had to arrive on the scene afterward. I agree with whomever is declaring this a Darwin Award. Sorry, but she kind of had this coming.

  • Pierce Anderson

    What site are you referring too? The only site I can find for a Kathy Carlisle is “Heaven’s Eye Photography” and she appears to be a out of Portland Oregon, not Sacramento.

  • Michael Comeau

    I’ve had a few near accidents doing street photography that taught me one thing – ALWAYS be aware of what’s behind you.

  • natashaleigh

    You are a total jerk. Who cares what her photography looked like, really? A woman made a deadly mistake and she and her family are paying a very high price for that. I don’t see how speaking negatively of her photography skills is helpful at all. Basically, you think that you can shoot in dangerous locations only if you are “good enough”. No shot is really worth dying for and I don’t imagine that was her intention.

  • Rob S

    52 years old. If at 52 you dont know the dangers of being on an active rail road track you have probably had a pretty lucky life. Avoiding a train is really not hard. They dont swerve. The path they follow is not only well marked visually but it requires effort to get in the way of. You have to make an effort to STEP OVER something and the danger zone is a combination of large rocks and sticky wood. A blind, deaf person could tell where they were.

    I feel for her family and friends but no one should be surprised this happened. This was not an accident or a tragedy but the foreseeable and inevitable result of choosing to place yourself in mortal danger.

  • Stinky

    Her daughter is hot.

  • KH

    +1 on all the stay off the rails comments. As a former avid train photo nut, it is a rule to stay off the tracks and never walk in gauge. It ends up pissing off the train crews anyway when you get too close. And that helps ruin the hobby for everyone.

  • Roberto Inetti

    I Don’t want to die that way, because I won’t have any time to edit my pictures…

  • Rob S

    Im a soldier and we do some pretty unsafe stuff on a regular basis because its part of the job. But because its part of the job we have also developed a great appreciation of mitigating risk. We do a risk assessment for just about everything and apply mitigation until the risk is acceptable.

    Rail operations happen to be one of the more dangerous things we do. Putting a tank onto a rail car presents multiple ways to kill or get killed. But the first rule of rail operations is to NEVER stand on or between tracks. I have seen a lot of accidents during rail loading but I have never seen someone hit by a train because of that one simple rule.

    As I said below, this was no accident. This was a predictable outcome of specific behavior. And it could have been avoided with one simple mitigation – dont stand on or between tracks. Do that one thing and it is impossible for the train to hit you. Fail to do it and it is inevitable that one will.

  • Mansgame

    A woman is dead so I’m not going to make any rude comments. I do however cringe when I see engagement pictures on train tracks since it’s both unimaginative, dangerous, and possibly illegal.

    Bad things can happen to all of us. I like taking night pictures so I’m sure some of you would be making fun of my death in case I’m ever mugged and murdered while doing that. Maybe some of you like nature pictures and may get mauled. Sometimes this passion has a price.


  • Roberto Inetti

    That’s what she said.

  • Fred Nerks

    Some really nasty comments disgrace this article. The accusation of suicide comes from morons. People who are out to kill themselves don’t usually take photos. Some of you need to go and get jobs instead of slamming somebody for something that you didn’t witness.

  • Bob

    I agree, darwin awards. How did she get to 52?

  • Tony Case

    Who cares what her photography looked like, really?

    Eh, if I’m going to die for that photo, that sucker better be AWESOME!

  • Tony Case

    That’s why when shooting something dangerous – bring spotters! Iron clad rule one of dangerous activity: a buddy to look out for you.

  • MEEfO

    You’re the asshole. The real victims here are the train conductor and
    his family, and the effect this will have on their lives. He had no
    choice and was powerless to change the outcome. He was forced to kill a
    woman and watch all the while. Try offering your sympathies to the
    deserving parties

  • Trey Campbell

    Wow this is the 2nd week in a row where a photographer and a train have made big news. Let’s all be careful next week.

  • Trey Campbell

    Wow this is the 2nd week in a row where a photographer and a train have made big news. Let’s all be careful next week.

  • Chris Popely

    I shouldn’t laugh…

    But that’s funny!

  • fahrertuer

    I’m only willing to walk on one kind of rail: those overgrown with trees. From everything else I keep at least 1.5 meters away or just cross quickly.

    Seen the results of what happens to a person caught by a train. I wasn’t close, but I saw enough to have a lasting impression

  • Scott M

    Man you all are a tough bunch. Can’t we just write this off as a horrible accident that is tragic for all involved? Part of living on this rock is that s**t happens, and we need to learn from mistakes (our own and those of others) and move on with our lives. Show some respect for everyone and be thankful you have a pulse today.

  • dad

    this reminds me of that Canon commerical.

    one guy standing on snowy rooftop so he can get that perfect shot.

    she probably got inspiration from that commercial?

  • Kees

    She was not a soldier….

  • Antonio Carrasco

    You call it a tragedy, I call it Darwinism

  • Antonio Carrasco

    her photography is not bad at all.

  • Jaur

    Photography and death…
    This reminded me of the Swedish news reporter that filmed his own murder. He was out filming in the streets during the state coup in Chile -79 when you see an military vehicle pull up, an officer pointing straight to the camera, a private takes aim, still straight at the camera, and shoots. The film ends when you see the camera falling to the ground and the reporter next to the photographer rushing up.