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"Can you fly a drone over railroad tracks?"

RedBaron2

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This is a follow-up to my recent encounter with an apparent rail employee. I was ordered to land immediately because the rail employee said that I was flying illegally over a federal railroad.
1. As a follow-up, I just sent the following message to the subject railroad:
"Does XXXX publish a list of safety or restrictive guidelines for drone photography? Specifically, can I fly my drone over and above tracks (not a yard; not a train) for the purpose of moving my aerial camera to take a scenic photograph? "Uncontrolled airspace", safe altitude; no workers; no passengers; no trains; visual line of sight maintained.
As an FYI, I am registered with the FAA as a recreational flyer, and I have my TRUST certificate. Your response would be much appreciated.

2. Today, I just found this informational item.

I welcome your comments.
 

AlanL

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There are a lot of inaccurate statements in that linked article starting with this statement:

"The airspace refers to the air available for aircraft to fly in, and it is subject to the jurisdiction of a particular country. The airspace has two categories, the "Uncontrolled Airspace," this is the airspace 400 feet from the ground. The other category is the "Controlled Airspace," the airspace above 400 feet from the ground.

The controlled airspace is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, while the uncontrolled airspace as the name implies is not regulated, but different states and areas have regulations that control the uncontrolled airspace."


The FAA is the regulatory agency for all national the airspace both above and below 400' and local government agencies cannot regulate that airspace. They can forbid you from launching/landing/controlling your aircraft for areas under their jurisdiction but not the airspace above it.

The author appears to have done at least some homework on the topic and has some valid points within the article but seems to be lacking clue when it comes to airspace jurisdiction which is entirely assigned to the FAA by congress.
 

RedBaron2

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Do you have DeJa'Vu? Seems like I just read a thread last week exactly like this.

I fly over railroad tracks all the time but my home point where Im flying from is a long ways from the tracks and im usually at least 150' up in the air and nowhere near the train stations at all. Never heard a word about this until last week.
Same incident; same poster: Me.
The updates are: 1) the news article from HOBBY Nation, and 2) my request to the western railroad for clarification on their drone restrictions.
Separately, I received supporting messages from MP members that are well-versed in this subject.
I appreciate any, and all, comments.
 
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OJsakila

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Same incident; same poster: Me.
The updates are: 1) the news article from Drone Nation, and 2) my request to the western railroad for clarification on their drone restrictions.
I appreciate any, and all, comments.
Yeaa...I posted before I realized that. Then I deleted it. lol
I searched Google and found several results saying you cant fly over tracks here in the US This seems to be a NEW LAW of some sort.. I saw zero posts saying you could fly over tracks. hmm..
 

MA2 317

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From DHS...

"Critical infrastructure includes the vast network of highways, connecting bridges and tunnels, railways, utilities and buildings necessary to maintain normalcy in daily life. Transportation, commerce, clean water and electricity all rely on these vital systems."




.
 
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OJsakila

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Honestly, this makes sense. I don't have an issue with it, I was just unaware of it.

Obviously, there is a communication problem here. Although, its fact that I'm supposed to know these things as a drone pilot. grr.. what a slippery slope this is...
 

BobaFuct

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This article is garbage.

"The airspace has two categories, the "Uncontrolled Airspace," this is the airspace 400 feet from the ground. The other category is the "Controlled Airspace," the airspace above 400 feet from the ground.

The controlled airspace is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, while the uncontrolled airspace as the name implies is not regulated, but different states and areas have regulations that control the uncontrolled airspace."


Just totally wrong.

"You must not fly your drone above or near emergency activities and critical infrastructures, including transport systems (vehicles, airports, seaports, and railroad tracks)."

Where does this come from? The FAA's website says this:

"Drones are prohibited from flying over designated national security sensitive facilities. Operations are prohibited from the ground up to 400 feet above ground level, and apply to all types and purposes of UAS flight operations. Examples of these locations are:

  • Military bases designated as Department of Defense facilities
  • National landmarks, such as Statue of Liberty, Hoover Dam, Mt. Rushmore
  • Certain critical infrastructure, such as nuclear power plants"

There is no mention of "transport systems."

"You can only fly your drone in the Class G airspace."

What?

And this is just absolutely false and easily disprovable by Google:

"Some states like Oregon, Oklahoma, Delaware, and Texas have passed laws that prohibit the flying of drones near or over critical infrastructures, including railroad facilities."

I literally Google'd "texas drone critical infrastructure" and the statute is very specific:

"(1-a) "Critical infrastructure facility" means:
(A) one of the following, if completely enclosed by a fence or other physical barrier that is obviously designed to exclude intruders, or if clearly marked with a sign or signs that are posted on the property, are reasonably likely to come to the attention of intruders, and indicate that entry is forbidden:

...a railroad switching yard
"

So a switching yard may be off limits depending on the state, but flying over railroad tracks is not broadly illegal.

Nevermind that the Texas law banning overflights of "critical infrastructures" was ruled unconstitutional:

 
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FLDave

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So how highways are critical infrastructure per DHS. How does that work for FAA?
 

BobaFuct

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DHS judgments of "critical infrastructure" serve more of a policy/programming/funding prioritization function than carrying any sort of legal or oversight authority. DHS doesn't regulate airspace and doesn't tell people where they can and can't fly. In fact, DHS says as much on their website:

How can you find out where it is acceptable to fly a UAS and where it is not?

B4UFLY is a free mobile app to help UAS operators know whether there are any restrictions or requirements where they want to fly. The app is free to download, provides a “status” indicator to inform the operator of restrictions, and offers informed future flight planning aids. FAA also provides an ArcGIS site for advanced facility mapping and flight restriction visualization.

 

RedBaron2

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DHS judgments of "critical infrastructure" serve more of a policy/programming/funding prioritization function than carrying any sort of legal or oversight authority. DHS doesn't regulate airspace and doesn't tell people where they can and can't fly. In fact, DHS says as much on their website:

How can you find out where it is acceptable to fly a UAS and where it is not?

B4UFLY is a free mobile app to help UAS operators know whether there are any restrictions or requirements where they want to fly. The app is free to download, provides a “status” indicator to inform the operator of restrictions, and offers informed future flight planning aids. FAA also provides an ArcGIS site for advanced facility mapping and flight restriction visualization.

Perfect. Received other private messages of support and action, if needed. I verified that my brief flight was NOT in controlled airspace, and I had full VLOS the whole time. Going forward, your comments and quotes will be retained in my flight bag. Once I receive the railroad's response, I will share that information in this post. Thank you.
 

RedBaron2

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This article is garbage.

"The airspace has two categories, the "Uncontrolled Airspace," this is the airspace 400 feet from the ground. The other category is the "Controlled Airspace," the airspace above 400 feet from the ground.

The controlled airspace is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, while the uncontrolled airspace as the name implies is not regulated, but different states and areas have regulations that control the uncontrolled airspace."


Just totally wrong.

"You must not fly your drone above or near emergency activities and critical infrastructures, including transport systems (vehicles, airports, seaports, and railroad tracks)."

Where does this come from? The FAA's website says this:

"Drones are prohibited from flying over designated national security sensitive facilities. Operations are prohibited from the ground up to 400 feet above ground level, and apply to all types and purposes of UAS flight operations. Examples of these locations are:

  • Military bases designated as Department of Defense facilities
  • National landmarks, such as Statue of Liberty, Hoover Dam, Mt. Rushmore
  • Certain critical infrastructure, such as nuclear power plants"

There is no mention of "transport systems."

"You can only fly your drone in the Class G airspace."

What?

And this is just absolutely false and easily disprovable by Google:

"Some states like Oregon, Oklahoma, Delaware, and Texas have passed laws that prohibit the flying of drones near or over critical infrastructures, including railroad facilities."

I literally Google'd "texas drone critical infrastructure" and the statute is very specific:

"(1-a) "Critical infrastructure facility" means:
(A) one of the following, if completely enclosed by a fence or other physical barrier that is obviously designed to exclude intruders, or if clearly marked with a sign or signs that are posted on the property, are reasonably likely to come to the attention of intruders, and indicate that entry is forbidden:

...a railroad switching yard
"

So a switching yard may be off limits depending on the state, but flying over railroad tracks is not broadly illegal.

Nevermind that the Texas law banning overflights of "critical infrastructures" was ruled unconstitutional:

Great information for all of us. Thank you.
Going forward, I will carry a separate folder with copies of your news and court filings. Thank you.
 
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akdrone

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The OP won't give this up. Good grief.
Nor should he. This is an important issue and as we see from posts from DHS and others it is clear as mud which is the way some agencies want it to be. I am confident that there is no prohibition from the FAA in terms of flying over RR tracks in general but some of the posts here suggest otherwise, albeit with no confirmation from the FAA so I think looking for, and locking down clarity on a topic like this is important. In my own mind I have clarity that flying over RR tracks is NOT against FAA regulations and have done so and will continue to do so but here in AK we have 1 RR and after a long video, following the train south, the head of the RR viewed the video and enjoyed it. No problem...but that's just AK...
 

retiredNH

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Nor should he. This is an important issue and as we see from posts from DHS and others it is clear as mud which is the way some agencies want it to be. I am confident that there is no prohibition from the FAA in terms of flying over RR tracks in general but some of the posts here suggest otherwise, albeit with no confirmation from the FAA so I think looking for, and locking down clarity on a topic like this is important. In my own mind I have clarity that flying over RR tracks is NOT against FAA regulations and have done so and will continue to do so but here in AK we have 1 RR and after a long video, following the train south, the head of the RR viewed the video and enjoyed it. No problem...but that's just AK...
So what's the point? The fact that policies are not completely in synch, that policies need clarity and so forth is hardly unique to this situation. Laws, regulations and policies at various levels, federal, state and local are rarely harmonized. When it really matters, courts sort things out, but at great expense. I doubt a drone hobbyist has the financial resources to sort out this conflict (or any other).

So instead, posters go in circles, advocate risky actions and in general confuse more than clarify.

Look, I get it. Some folks have their own sense of fairness. Some folks like to test the limits of authority. Good luck...
 

akdrone

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So what's the point? The fact that policies are not completely in synch, that policies need clarity and so forth is hardly unique to this situation. Laws, regulations and policies at various levels, federal, state and local are rarely harmonized. When it really matters, courts sort things out, but at great expense. I doubt a drone hobbyist has the financial resources to sort out this conflict (or any other).

So instead, posters go in circles, advocate risky actions and in general confuse more than clarify.

Look, I get it. Some folks have their own sense of fairness. Some folks like to test the limits of authority. Good luck...
I understand your perspective to some degree and I'll try again to explain the point since you ask, but you do seem to answer the question rather well. One of the points to this forum, and many others, is to inform, particularly with regard to, as you say, "policies [that] need clarity". The point, to put a point on it, is to avoid having courts sort it out for forum members because most of our members do not have the "financial resources to sort out this conflict...". If the forum is going in circles, the circles are an attempt to gather the conflicting information and clarify rather than confuse, but confusion often precedes clarity. I see very few folks here attempting to "test the limits of authority" although I will admit that asserting one's legal rights is often perceived as such. My flying over RR tracks for many miles as I followed a moving train, hopscotching down a couple of hundred miles was proceeded by a good deal of research on what was legal and not legal and resulted in my belief that I could indeed do so legally and safely. I also believe I could have flown momentarily over the train but I am not confident in that belief either legally or in terms of safety so if you view the video you will notice I did not fly over the train at any time. I think quite a few pilots follow that basic approach in terms of attempting to follow the law and remain safe while at the same time exerting their right to fly within the law. Perhaps you are correct in that many pilots to push the limits by flying bvlos at times or over 400' but in general it's my belief that -most- folks, at the very least, try to remain safe and in general, within the law. Here's my example wherein I fly over RR tracks with exactly zero attempt to "test the limits of authority". That's it for me on this thread :)
 

RedBaron2

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I understand your perspective to some degree and I'll try again to explain the point since you ask, but you do seem to answer the question rather well. One of the points to this forum, and many others, is to inform, particularly with regard to, as you say, "policies [that] need clarity". The point, to put a point on it, is to avoid having courts sort it out for forum members because most of our members do not have the "financial resources to sort out this conflict...". If the forum is going in circles, the circles are an attempt to gather the conflicting information and clarify rather than confuse, but confusion often precedes clarity. I see very few folks here attempting to "test the limits of authority" although I will admit that asserting one's legal rights is often perceived as such. My flying over RR tracks for many miles as I followed a moving train, hopscotching down a couple of hundred miles was proceeded by a good deal of research on what was legal and not legal and resulted in my belief that I could indeed do so legally and safely. I also believe I could have flown momentarily over the train but I am not confident in that belief either legally or in terms of safety so if you view the video you will notice I did not fly over the train at any time. I think quite a few pilots follow that basic approach in terms of attempting to follow the law and remain safe while at the same time exerting their right to fly within the law. Perhaps you are correct in that many pilots to push the limits by flying bvlos at times or over 400' but in general it's my belief that -most- folks, at the very least, try to remain safe and in general, within the law. Here's my example wherein I fly over RR tracks with exactly zero attempt to "test the limits of authority". That's it for me on this thread :)
Thank you akdrone and to retiredNH. I do welcome all responses and respect advice. I am not here to test limits or to justify lawbreaking. Rather, I promised last week to contact BNSF and ask for THEIR guidance on drone rules and restrictions. I also promised this forum (and several private responders) that I would provide an update of further developments. This was simply keeping my commitment to others.
 

Jet skier

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This is a follow-up to my recent encounter with an apparent rail employee. I was ordered to land immediately because the rail employee said that I was flying illegally over a federal railroad.
1. As a follow-up, I just sent the following message to the subject railroad:
"Does XXXX publish a list of safety or restrictive guidelines for drone photography? Specifically, can I fly my drone over and above tracks (not a yard; not a train) for the purpose of moving my aerial camera to take a scenic photograph? "Uncontrolled airspace", safe altitude; no workers; no passengers; no trains; visual line of sight maintained.
As an FYI, I am registered with the FAA as a recreational flyer, and I have my TRUST certificate. Your response would be much appreciated.

2. Today, I just found this informational item.

I welcome your comments.
Yes
 

Vic Moss

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This is a follow-up to my recent encounter with an apparent rail employee. I was ordered to land immediately because the rail employee said that I was flying illegally over a federal railroad.
1. As a follow-up, I just sent the following message to the subject railroad:
"Does XXXX publish a list of safety or restrictive guidelines for drone photography? Specifically, can I fly my drone over and above tracks (not a yard; not a train) for the purpose of moving my aerial camera to take a scenic photograph? "Uncontrolled airspace", safe altitude; no workers; no passengers; no trains; visual line of sight maintained.
As an FYI, I am registered with the FAA as a recreational flyer, and I have my TRUST certificate. Your response would be much appreciated.

2. Today, I just found this informational item.

I welcome your comments.
I've addressed this article before.

It's pure garbage. I would use stronger language, but it's unadvisable in this forum.

It is 100% legal to fly over railroad tracks. Period. End of story. The FAA (who controls the airspace) does not consider railroads Critical Infrastructure. There are some railroad badged authorities who REALLY like their jobs and would do it for free if you gave them two badges and a gun.

And before anyone goes off on me again about being unfair to them, this is directly from someone who used to fly 107 ops for BNSF. This is NOT an indictment of all RR security.

As long as you're obeying FAA regulations (airspace, not over people, etc.), it is 100% legal to fly there. They can tell you whatever they want, but it's up to you if you want to listen to them or not.

So know the rules, and be prepared to stand your ground. It's 100% up to you to decide if you want to land or not unless you're flying from their property. If you're on their property, you're under their rules. And odds are you're trespassing. So don't fly from their property.

On one of my trips to Mexico I asked my BNSF drone pilot friend about their Barstow yard. He said they guy there isn't very friendly, but if he says anything, tell him you know the rules and you're not violating them. In that case, he'll leave you alone. And that isn't uncommon.

If I was afraid of what they may do, I wouldn't have been able to shoot these:

 
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