What to Make of More Stringent 765 Security

It probably was inevitable that after a woman was struck and killed in Colorado last July by Union Pacific 4-8-4 No. 844 that security surrounding the visit of Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765 to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in September would be tight.

The woman who was killed was standing on the ties as the Northern-type steamer passed through Henderson, Colorado. An Adams County sheriff’s investigation concluded that the woman appeared to be more focused on her phone’s screen than watching for an oncoming train.

What happened in Colorado could happen in Ohio, so the CVSR, the National Park Service, the Summit County Metroparks and the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society ratcheted up security to levels never seen during previous visits of steam locomotives.

Volunteers from the CVSR and FtWRHS were stationed at grade crossings.

Temporary no parking signs were posted on Riverview Road between Columbia Run Road and Everett.

White plastic chain rope was set up at popular viewing locations such as Brecksville and Jaite. Those chains were present at Boston Mill in the area reserved for passengers to watch the runbys, thus making it difficult to get clear views of the steamer.

At the Deep Lock Quarry trail south of Peninsula, two Summit County Metropark rangers kept photographers from crossing the tracks and standing on the east side.

No one wants to see someone killed who is standing too close to the tracks out of ignorance or recklessness.

Although that has never happened during a visit of the 765 to the CVSR, some people, I suppose, have to be saved from themselves.

Nonetheless, I keep thinking about my favorite Robert Frost poem, The Oven Bird and its last lines: “The question that he frames in all but words. Is what to make of a diminished thing.”

It was nice to see the Nickel Plate Berkshire again and we in Northeast Ohio are fortunate to be one of two places where the 765 will operate this year.

Yet I couldn’t help but remember how during previous years security was not as tight and photographers had more freedom to stake out photo locations.

Those involved in security for the NKP 765 excursions would say it is all about safety, but if you could get them to go beyond their broad talking points, they would acknowledge that their sense of risk aversion has increased over what it was in the past.

When it comes to safety, authorities like to paint with broad rather than fine brushes. I understand that. The CVSR, park agencies and FtWRHS have much to lose if there is an incident in which the 765 strikes someone, resulting in death or a crippling injury.

Yet something has been lost and chasing after the 765 was not as enjoyable as it used to be.

Enforcement of the security measures was inconsistent and at times baffling.

At Deep Lock Quarry, I started to stand next to a photographer with a long telephoto lens who was up against the wood fence.

A Metroparks official motioned me over and said, “stand on this side” as he pointed toward the edge of the paved trail. I don’t know what that was about but it wasn’t about safety.

As has happened in previous years, a Peninsula cop sat in his cruiser on the east shoulder of Riverview Road at Boston Mill and sped northward whenever someone crossed the highway to stand near the guard rail closest to the tracks toward the north end of the ski resort.

Watching that cop shoot down Riverview to pounce on some unsuspecting photographer was comical at times.

But there was nothing funny about what happened to a teen on Sunday afternoon who crossed the road to make photographs.

The cop raced down the road and yelled at him over his SUV’s external loudspeaker in a voice loud enough to be heard clearly several hundred feet away.

Get back in the far parking lot! It was not a polite but firm “please get back on the other side of the road” command. The officer acted as though this teen’s transgression was a personal affront.

I will never forget the look on the young man’s face as he trudged back to his mother’s car.

Moments earlier an officer was camped on the west shoulder of Riverview just north of the Columbia Run picnic area and keeping photographers from crossing the road to photograph from the grassy area between the east shoulder of Riverview and the tracks. On Saturday it had been OK to stand in that grassy area.

As the 765 was abeam his patrol vehicle, he took off southbound on Riverview, getting into the images of some photographers. He could have delayed moving for 10 or 15 seconds, but didn’t.

Safety is a conundrum for the CVSR, which operates in a public park on tracks it doesn’t own.

The railroad seeks to balance the needs of safety with the desire of more than a thousand people to watch something they rarely get to see.

Fact is the CVSR, the FtWRHS and the park agencies want people to come out to watch the steam locomotive. But they also want to restrict how they can do that.

The level of security that came with this year’s 765 visit probably will be the norm for future 765 visits as well as excursions behind mainline steam locomotives elsewhere.

There were still locations where you could get clear views of the 765 and its train without getting hassled or feeling as though you were under surveillance.

The plastic chains at Jaite afforded photographers good views of the 765 coming or going to the north. During my visit to Jaite, CVSR and FtWRHS personnel watched the crowd, but no one told anyone where to stand so long as you stayed behind the chains.

Two fans I spoke with during the weekend contrasted some of the behavior they observed with the behavior of Metra police officers when the 765 ran trips between Joliet and Chicago. Both fans described the Metra officers as friendly and courteous.

Railfan photographers understand the need for security and crowd control when a steam locomotive visits. They understand that legitimate safety and crowd control needs sometimes will impinge upon where and how photography can be done. But a little consideration still goes a long way.

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One Response to “What to Make of More Stringent 765 Security”

  1. pwwoodring Says:

    The CVSR, and the CVL before that, have had a very anti-photographer/fan attitude since the operation began in the 1970’s. That attitude goes back to the attitude of the leadership of the former Midwest Chapter NRHS, that the fans are a problem, a nuisance, too cheap to buy a ticket, and people to be resented, loathed; contemptible pests to be driven away at all costs. That’s been the poisonous attitude of CVSR management (like many stereotypes not without some truth) ever since.

    Several years ago, the last time OC 1293 was here, I talked to a visiting professional photographer, nationally published, who specialized in photographing in America’s National Parks, and came from out of state specifically for “Steam in the Valley”. He called CVSR’s office to try and get information about the schedule for the trips, and was met with open hostility, and told he was not welcome to be along the railroad to photograph the train if he was not going to buy a ticket. This was not said by a clerk taking orders, this was said by an official of the railroad at that time. That attitude only gets worse with time. Like the attacks of September 2001, a tragic incident is being used to further erode our freedoms.

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