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

  • Roger Thornhill

    I find it hard to criticize her myself, I have done some really stupid things in my time to get a photograph (and they usually end up like crap).

  • Arnold Newman

    I’m blown away by the lack of compassion in these comments. If we were talking about someone committing a crime (and I’m NOT talking about standing on tracks) I would be with you but this was a woman, a teacher, a contributing member of society, who made a mistake. Clearly, many posters here are much smarter than Carlisle and never make mistakes—but it also seems like you’re a bunch of jackasses.

  • DON

    I feel more sorry for the train crew than for the teacher. The teacher was doing a really stupid dumb act and sort of got what she deserved. The train crew was just doing their job, probably blew their whistle or horn frantically to try to warn her and still killed her through no fault of their own.

    They will have to live with this for the rest of their lives. I hope that they get counselling from their employer to help them through it.

    If I were the crew, I would sue the family of the teacher for mental distress. You can flame me on this issue but the crew are suffering because of her stupidity and they deserve compensation for that. However, in the real world, the woman’s family will probably hire a lawyer and she will get some money for her loss of life.

    Just goes to prove that Darwin was wrong – the monkeys were smarter.

  • Rob S

    Sorry if my point was not clear. I was trying to show that even inherently dangerous things – like rail operations – can be safe as long as you respect the dangers and take appropriate steps to mitigate them. In this case there is a very simple and 100% effective mitigation.

  • Wallerus

    It’d be too easy to be extremely critical, but I hope we all take a lesson. Think it through, putting yourself at this great of risk could’ve been avoided. It’s a shame, and those kids she knew have to deal as well.

  • Seattlite

    I was an ICU nurse at our local trauma center. There was a period of time when it was considered a “thrill” to stand as close as you could to a train. Several kids ended up in our unit because they did not know a train was coming on the opposing tracks. Their friends would be yelling and screaming at them but they could not hear it over the noise of the oncoming trains.

  • Alan Halfhill

    The train tracks are private property. The railroad considers it trespassing. And for good reason. They are dangerous. A freight train can crush a car with the force as if a car was running over a pop can.
    All my life I have photographed many a train. I stay of the tracks. We must respect the railroads right of way.

  • K

    The fact that anyone is saying she “got what she deserved” is utterly disgusting. Although it was not a smart choice to be on the train tracks, nobody deserves death. Indeed it is a tragedy for everyone involved. The train conductor and especially Mrs. Carlisle and her family, friends, students, and community. Everyone makes errors in their life and no matter the circumstance, this is a true and deeply sorrowful tragedy. Criticism is not necessary in the wake of this awful occurrence, but love, support, prayers, and thoughts for all those, in any way, affected by this tragedy. Stop criticizing, learn from others successes and mistakes, be thankful to live another day, and say I love you to those who are special in your life. Paint the skies, Mrs. Carlisle, you will be forever missed.

  • anon

    you’re disgusting

  • shashinka

    I’ve spent over 20 years as a newspaper photographer. It all started however with my love of trains in Japan. I started photographing trains when I was eights. Today, I’m near 40 and shoot trains one to two days a week in America.

    In all the years as a train buff, I have seen people here in America, (Non-train buffs) do every thing from setting up tripods between the gauge while an oncoming train is approaching at 79mph to seeing school girls placing a baby basket complete with an infant on RR ties on a bridge.

    It is quite easy to miss a train coming up behind you if you have a train approaching ahead of you. I have seen people struck and killed by trains seven or eight times over the years walking down the tracks with their back to the train because of headphones, or a train on the other track drowns out the sound of the oncoming train.

    My biggest fear is not being struck by another train, I have enough sense NEVER to stand between the rails EVER, but rather something falling off a freight car, or a derailment. (I have been present when both occur)

    Sadly, I think I better take the next two weeks off now, becasue EVERY railroad cop will be running photographers away now becasue of this so-call darwin award.

    (Edited by my boss for popper wording, English is not my first language)

  • shashinka

    It is illegal to be on RR property, Right of Way is 5m from the center of the nearest track.

  • shashinka

    In the average career of a railroader, engineers by statistics will kill two trespassers with their train during an average 20 year career.

  • shashinka

    Thebiggest danger with trains is that they are large and appear at a distance to move slower than they really are.

  • shashinka

    And if it is hard to hear Diesel-Electric locomotives, the all-electric (overhead wires) are impossible to hear. The Shinkasen (bullet train) are moving close to 250mph, and you don’t hear them until they are about 100 yards from you, and even then all you hear is the wind being pushed away before the train itself.

  • shashinka

    I’ve seen newborn baby pictures taken on double track mainlines on a bridge (Bridge at Harper’s Ferry WV)

  • shashinka

    Because those are calculated and AVOIDABLE risks.

  • shashinka

    I’ve been shooting trains my entire life and have never been struck, never needed a spotter, nor ever been “lose myself” while doing it. I think, when one is near a 2000 ton object moving 15m per second, it is rather hard not to notice something the size of warehouse coming at you..

  • shashinka

    LOL, Huey Le, I psoted the YouTube link to that video above as well.

  • shashinka

    If the oncoming train was near enough, she may have mistaken the train that struck her from behind fore the oncoming train.

  • Lorie L. West

    Thanks to everyone who pointed out that this woman had a choice and that the train engineer did not. Considering what’s at stake, I feel there’s too much celebration of photos of people, kids, on railroad tracks. And if I try to speak up, no matter how nicely I put it, there’s a quick, defensive, emotional reaction.

  • Alex

    Whatever happened to shooting trains by standing off the side of the rails and shooting with a LF camera and a lens with alot of room for shift?

  • Paceride

    I don’t understand. She was photographing a train coming towards her and another was coming up behind her? Obviously not on the same track. How did this happen?

  • guest

    Sad to hear about this, but sometimes sh*t happens. Not going to comment why it happened, I wasn’t there.

    I have taken some railroad pictures along active tracks, and I was constantly worried of a train coming. One area, I was off the tracks but in a semi-confined canyon passing, maybe only 5-8 feet on each side of the rails, not much.
    Some of these newer diesel electric trains are loud when they are first starting up and getting up to speed, but after that, they are surprisingly quiet.

    One time I was on a call for my job, when I responded a utility worker had a pair of cutters in his hands around a wire and was getting ready to cut them. Soon as I saw that, I YELLED to him to stop. Wound up being that the line he was getting ready to cut was one of 3 live 12KV electric lines. I say this because train tracks should be treated like live wires, never “ASSUME” but be respectful.

    FYI, the guy was fine, he immediately called his wife and took the rest of the day off.

  • Stu Elman

    Those signs the railroad post saying “Do not stand on tracks” are there for a reason. There is no excuse for a boneheaded move like this.

  • Brian Gray

    If cars were passing on the other side of a road and she got hit by a truck from behind would that be an accident because she couldn’t hear it? If you stand in the middle of a road – you will eventually get run over. The same applies to railway tracks.

  • mdjorie

    If you must make it a point to stand on the tracks, at least stand on the tracks of the train coming towards you so you can get out of the way in time.

    Of course, it’s easy to be smart *after* something tragic like this happens. Regardless of how silly this mistake was, a person still died, and that’s not something to be taken trivially.

  • Ben

    suicide by train?

  • railfan

    This “story” was posted in a facebook group that I belong to and it
    really annoyed me with all the errors, speculation and supposed quotes.
    So what is this page supposed to be? A blog? A rant page or a story?

    This piece is so full of holes and speculation it shouldn’t have been put on your site in the first place.
    As this is my first visit to you website I can not believe what I have just read about the photographer.

    First off, the story started off good in the sentences under the video link, but it deteriorates from there.
    It starts to turn into a unfactual rant full of speculation and incorrect facts.

    are noisy when they start, but once they are up to speed and if you are
    really listening for them they will sneak up on you.
    I know this
    personally from when I was naive enough to walk the tracks while
    listening to my scanner and the Amtrak Empire Builder from Seattle snuck
    up on me form behind and gave a couple of short sharp blasts on his
    horn. I had about 15 seconds to jump off the track onto the ballast on
    the side of the track before the train was on me at full speed. So this
    writer really does not know what he is talking about.

    The section using quote from the comments on the news story should have been left out.
    They are speculation and ruin the story.

    The non factual section of the piece is the writers insistence that the conductor should be blowing the horn.
    A conductor does not have any horn cord or button on his side of the cab. That is the engineer’s job and responsibility.
    has a monitor that shows him the basic information about speed and air
    pressure and the such and a radio on his side, but has no control over
    the locomotives bell or horn. The writer is incorrect in his assumption
    that the conductor can do anything other than say to the engineer that
    there is a person on the tracks.

    The only part of the last
    section of the story I agree with is the part that is possible that the
    photographer did not hear the other train with all the noise of the
    first train.

    I think this story could have been written better

  • shashinka

    My comment ( if you were to read my subsequent comments) here does not excuse her ignorance, only stating as someone who has been photographing trains my entire life, that when people make the argument that she should have heard the train, is simply, if you are looking at the train in the direction as it approaches, it is easily to misconstrue the sound of a train approaching from behind.

    Please see ALL my subsequent comments in this thread.

  • Bill Stonewall

    “Thus, it seems likely that these commenters are both off base……”

    The tragedy in this case is that the media does not report correctly what actually happened, otherwise the byline for this article would be:

    Negligent Women Dies on Train Tracks after Ignorantly Attempting to take Pictures of an Oncoming Train.

    The tracks are only 4′ 8″ wide and you really only need 24″ of clearance on each side of the rail to keep from getting hit.

    However, if you stand between the rails (in the gauge) on a an active track, you run a 100% change of meeting a train at some point.

    There was absolutely no reason for this to happen, other than the women’s arrogance with respect to the danger.

    The victims in this instance were the poor people who were forced to watch as their locomotive smashed her to bits like a grape.

    If you are going to report a story, at least be accurate.

  • Wm Beecher

    Thinning the herd one person at a time… I feel for the crew.

  • EPM75

    We really need to start clarifying something in this day and age. Millions of people own and use cameras, the only ones who can really and *should* be called “Photographers” are those who make a full time living at it. The rest are simply people with cameras. This poor lady was an Art Teacher with a camera, not a photographer…

  • Graham Lightfoot

    I live in the UK and take pictures of trains every week in the UK, Europe and the US, I know the location well at Scaramento and was there two years ago.
    The golden rule when taking photos of moving trains is never stand on the tracks, or within 2 metres of them.
    Sadly it is incidents like this that get the rest of us gricers (if you don’t know what a gricer is look it up) a bad name.

  • Sam Davey

    Im a railroad employee. I have seen first hand the dangers of trespassing on the tracks. Last summer I found a guy that had been cut in half. He was still alive but not by much. My helper and I got help as quick as we could and saved his life. It was a traumatic experience even though we weren’t the ones that hit him. All I could see when I closed my eyes at night was his bleeding body laying there gasping for air. This story is sad yes, but think of the Conductor and Engineer on that train. Think of how they feel.

  • CJ

    Nice comments! Yep even for any railroad employees to be doing any task on or near the right of way, it is required by federal law that there must be at least one spotter (depending on the distance and where the tracks go to out of site) if not more. In addition to other safety features implemented as well. I’ve seen some pretty close calls with railfans as well…but what can you do? Another thing…even tracks that look abandoned may not be…just may be irregularly used. Being that railroad property is private property and trespassing is a federal offense, you shouldn’t go anywhere near…no matter the condition of the right of way. i just really hope that the family or friends don’t start blaming Union Pacific with lawsuits…I’ve heard many stories of people blaming the railroad for an accident, like kids trying to beat a train at a railroad crossing and getting themselves killed, when it’s all their fault. There’s no excuse. What you don’t know is the many radio calls that went to the dispatcher after this happened, the monthly and annual signal inspections and safety equipment…etc etc.

  • CJ

    try this: i work at a tourist railroad in the bay area…came across pictures of a woman in a long dress, in high heels, posing in the middle of the tracks, on a hundred year old BRIDGE on our main line. Going either direction, there would be no time to stop. Also keep in mind it is VERY hard to see from the perspective of the guy in the hot seat.

  • Gerald Driggs

    I was standing next to several tracks and was recording one train when all of the sudden another train came from the opposite direction on the track closest to me and made me jump. If I had been over another 4 to 5 feet I would not be here to tell you this today. It can happen believe me I have the video to prove it.

  • Robert Gift

    You won’t feel an approaching train until it is too late.
    How tragic that she stupidly never considered that another train could approaching.
    If you are that stupid, you stay far enough away from any track that you are out of foul of a train.
    She heard the approaching train’s horn. It is louder than the noise of the passing train.
    She likely assumed the horn was that of the already passing train.

  • Richard in Boston

    Folks .. the CONDUCTOR has nothing to do with driving the train. The ENGINEER is the one who is driving the train (and has to live with killing this woman) Yes, it was not his fault, but these things take a toll nevertheless.

  • Stina

    Thank you for posting this Michael, and I’m sorry to see that callous people have felt it necessary to continue their negative comments here. There isn’t anyone that knew Kathy that doesn’t wish she hadn’t been more careful, but the fact remains that she died tragically. Many accidents are preventable, but that doesn’t make them any less tragic when they happen. When I read these negative comments, both those posted below and those posted on other sites, it saddens me to think that people would use someone’s death as an opportunity to mock and be disrespectful. I find it shameful that anyone would knowingly post something hurtful on such an article, knowing full well that any of the deceased’s friends and loved ones might read what others have written. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy, let alone some undeserving stranger.

  • Pat Soberanis

    comments should not be allowed without a moderator. isn’t it just so easy to sit safely at your computer and post a snarky, unjust accusation of someone you don’t even know, about an event you don’t have all the facts about, to the point of actually saying she deserved to die! it’s unbelievable. kathy was a beautiful soul who was as devoted to her husband and three children as she was to her students and her art, so much so that she was overwhelmed – her husband had been in the hospital recently, and her final video project was due in two weeks, not to mention her normal teaching and parenting duties – and probably not thinking clearly. and yet there is no way she would have taken such a risk if she had known she wouldn’t be able to hear or feel a train coming behind her. she simply didn’t know, as i didn’t know, as many of you still don’t know, or refuse to recognize, because then the fun of trashing someone anonymously would be over. without a moderator and real names, comments should not be allowed.

  • Wish

    This is someone’s mother.. have some respect

  • Wish

    “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” Everyone learns this is kindergarten.. Grow up. This is someone’s mother, show some respect.

  • Corbett Fogue

    First of all the art world will not make this woman a martyr for dying for her art. Don’t try and vilify art because one person made a stupid decision and got killed. Ironically the idea of having a photograph of the last thing a person saw is more potent than the images she was originally taking. Regardless, it was a tragic series of events and condolences go out to families of all involved.

  • photoguy

    She was doing what she loved and had a terrible accident, so I really am surprised to read any negativity when she paid her own price, not anyone else. I doubt anyone who has lived a little while has not had some luck on life threatening close calls of one kind or another that we did or did not initiate. I am sorry she is gone, but I truly hope she loved what she was doing (being a photographer) while she was here. Peace be with her and her loved ones.

  • Gideon Davidson

    She shouldn’t have been standing on the rails to take the photo, trains are just too fast and unable to stop to take such a risk. Which isn’t to say that anyone who dies doing something they love is always at fault. It’s to say whether it’s skiing, scuba-diving or photography, o should take every possible precaution and not go where the are very real dangers. Probably she was caught up n the excitement and forgot. Yet that’s all the more reason to follow safety regulations and stay safe.

  • natashaleigh

    My sympathies do go to the operator of the train, his family, as well as her family. She made a mistake. There is no indication she was purposely trying to kill herself. Everyone is involved is a victim, really. People make stupid choices and mistakes, it happens. It doesn’t mean she or her family are worthless and don’t deserve sympathy. Thanks for calling me an asshole based on the fact that I don’t think another human being deserves to be ridiculed like she was being for making a mistake. I appreciate your kindness.

  • MEEfO

    You called someone a jerk above for expressing his opinion (and backing it up). Doesn’t feel nice to taste your own medicine does it? She made a stupid choice, sure–but that stupid choice came with the consequence of ruining this conductor’s life, and possibly others. It’s a sad state of affairs when we simply excuse every idiot who makes a careless decision that leaves other lives ruined in its wake with a Well shucks, it happens! The idiot’s the true victim! Isn’t that essentially what you said in your original post? Here’re your words: “She and her family are paying a very high price.” She’s the victim. Brilliant.

  • Megan Salter

    only one way to not get hit by a train…Stay off the tracks! stay back a minimum of 5 feet from the tracks! RR tracks are private property owned by the RR company and to be on them is TRESPASSING! FACT! That’s why they have their own police departments and when accidents involving RR property, local police or state police investigate alongside the RR police. Furthermore, the idea that the comments mentioned were cold is accurate but they are the truth. While folks feel for the injured or killed, they seldom think about the mental emotion that the crew goes through. Many of them have left over side effects that effect anyone they work with and their family. STAY OFF OF RR PROPERTY!! I don’t care what your reason is, STAY OFF!

  • Von Stafford

    I just lost my good friend and my dog near Reno, on December 24th. We were on the train bridge, as several times before. My friend tried to save my dog. They are both gone. STAY OFF train tracks!