Union Station Shuts Down Fox 5

AmtrakGuard.png We reported earlier that photography at Union Station, despite being Carl’s favorite space to take photos, was getting to be a real challenge, even though photography in the incredibly beautiful Union Station is allowed both by Amtrak and by LaSalle Partners who maintains the space. Fox 5 News has gotten involved, and interviewed local photographer Joel Lawson about getting hassled when he pointed out that photography in Union Station was perfectly legal and acceptable.

What was hilarious, though, was Fox 5, while interviewing an Amtrak spokesman, was shut down by Union Station security for conducting an interview at Union Station. The security guard was unable to explain the policy, and refused to answer questions regarding the policy at the facility, and LaSalle Partners, who operate the mall portion of Union Station, wouldn’t respond in any way, shape or form to media inquiries.

It’s really bullshit that we can’t even ask what the rules are, or how they should be construed. How can we be respectful and participatory in our practice of photography if you won’t talk to us about what they want respected and why. This is the kind of thing that gets people up in arms and more than a little upset.

Figure it out, Union Station, and welcome shutterbugs.

19 Comments so far

  1. prontovega on May 31st, 2008 @ 2:41 pm

    This is just a guess here, and I hope that it helps to understand why photography would be limited at areas of public transportation. If terrorists had any plans of destruction at Union Station, which would have a big impact on America’s psychological impression of safety in our country, this could be an area of security that we don’t normally think about. Part of the planning for such a catastrophe by the potential terrorist would be to photograph all aspects of their target. It’s the same concept as a bank robber casing his target before the robbery. An area of public transportation that could inflict the most number of casualties is very high on the list of potential targets. That’s the most simple and direct explanation that I can give.

  2. Tom Bridge (tbridge) on May 31st, 2008 @ 2:50 pm


    I certainly understand how terrorists might use the situation to their advantage, but Amtrak has directly said (and their spokesman is on the record in the interview that Fox 5 was having before they were interrupted) that there is no reason to prohibit the taking of photographs in their portion of the station whatsoever, making some serious holes in your argument.

    And, frankly, let’s get past the bullshit terrorism excuse. The plans for Union Station are likely on file with the District’s records office, why not get those instead?

  3. prontovega on May 31st, 2008 @ 4:27 pm

    There is a reason for not taking those photographs, and it seems to have had an impact of the lack of freedom that we have had since 9/11. If you look at this from a military (defensive) point of view it makes more sense. It sucks to think that we have lost our point of freedom to be able to take pictures from where ever and when ever we want to. Try looking up the plans for the District’s records office of the Union Station and see if you don’t draw a red flag from somewhere.
    Does any of this make sense?
    Who are these people that have attacked our way of life?
    We almost completely lost our sense of national security when the World Trade Center was destroyed. Even something as simple as taking pictures of a potential terrorist attack site is a matter of defending our freedom and national security.
    Jim Cook

  4. jldc on May 31st, 2008 @ 4:52 pm

    "Who are these people that have attacked our way of life?"

    Dunno, tell us more about yourself, because your opinion here is very much against liberty, against freedom, and against our way of life.

  5. Tom Bridge (tbridge) on May 31st, 2008 @ 4:58 pm


    There’s honestly no reason to prevent photography in Union Station. I’m sorry, there’s just not. Besides, tons of photos of Union Station are *already online*.

    You may be right in that we lost our *sense* of national security, but our national security itself is intact, which means that security theatre events like this are honestly making us less safe, by allowing our government too much blanket authority to do stupid, non-sensical things like this.

  6. mirrorball on May 31st, 2008 @ 5:42 pm

    Well we certainly can’t let the terrorists see the food court. No telling what might happen.

  7. jldc on May 31st, 2008 @ 6:49 pm

    Not to mention, if you’re REALLY worried about security, prontovega, you should be alarmed by the FOX 5 story. We have station management clearly investing as little as possible in quality security guards. Nobody has their act together regarding what the security policies are (or may be). Training is obviously scant at best. Tourists are being hunted down for finger waggings, taking time and brain power (if it exists, frankly) away from keen observation. Don’t toss around cliches about "our way of life" in defense of glaring security deficiencies, prontovega. Your take on this is a recipe for both a lack of security and a lack of liberty, which I thought was the real "way of life" we all enjoyed here.

  8. prontovega on June 1st, 2008 @ 12:21 am

    I’ll tell you a little about myself, if you will tell me more about you. I was in the military when we were not at a time of war. It was a time of relative peace before 9/11, but we were prepared for attacks on the freedom of our country. Our freedom and "way of life" is not something that comes without making some choices to defend the national security of our country. If there was an actual direct threat on the security of Union Station you would see a lot more defense then what is in place now. This is not a cliche any more than the men and women of our country who have given their lives to defend our freedom.
    What would you add to the recipe for lack of security at Union Station? Are you willing to step up? Step out of the shadow of the internet and make a difference in what it takes to defend something that many people have been willing to die for.

  9. prontovega on June 1st, 2008 @ 2:28 am

    How secure is our national security? Is it more secure than it was before 9/11? If it is, how did it get to be that way?
    What would you do if you woke up Monday morning and the building that you worked in was no longer there? Where would you go? How would you spend the rest of the day?

  10. Don (dc_don) on June 1st, 2008 @ 9:52 am

    I’m amazed that anyone can make the "oh no terrorists!" claim with a straight face. If you’ve seen television news in the last 20 years – or even one of those nanny reality shows – you know that there’s a ton of stealth photography and video equipment to be had. Pinhole video cameras can stare out at you from someone’s tie or suitcase and you’re never the wiser. We don’t even have to debate the highly questionable suggestion that a potential attacker has any use for images of a target – It’s simply impossible to stop someone interested in getting images of someplace they’re free to wander around in.

    Compare that, on the other hand, to the tremendous number of legitimate tourists who make their way around the city and are interested in taking pictures of the things they see. Stopping and interrogating every single one of them – when we know, statistically, that almost everyone that gets stopped with be an innocent person with no ill desires – means diverting time from productive efforts. Real security, as opposed to security theater or ineffective security, requires making tradeoffs and apportioning efforts wisely.

  11. Tom Bridge (tbridge) on June 1st, 2008 @ 11:08 am


    If what you want me to do is reflect on the generally ephemeral nature of life in specific then I can do that with the best of them. I appreciate your service to this nation as a member of its military forces, much as I appreciate the contributions of my father and my brother, both of whom served in the US Navy as enlisted men.

    Back to the issue at hand, though, you ask a question. What would I do if we were attacked again? Work tirelessly to rebuild. It is the only way to prove to the weak-minded bent on violence that we are truly a strong people. Curtailing freedoms like the practice of photography in public spaces seems silly and paranoid. Sacrificing liberty for false security seems to be what Franklin was talking about.

  12. jldc on June 1st, 2008 @ 11:32 am

    Oh, where to begin?

    "we were prepared for attacks on the freedom of our country" — Wrong. 14 months after the attacks, the chairman of the Senate Select Cmte on Intelligence said: "They [FBI] still don’t know where the terrorists are, how many are here, what their intentions are, what kind of support network they have." FOUR YEARS after the attacks: "failures are shocking. Four years after 9/11, it is a scandal" (former GOP Gov. Kean of NJ, chair of the 9/11 commission). SEVEN YEARS after: "Hospital ERs Unprepared for Attack" (ABC News).

    I could have said all that with one word, of course: Katrina. But you seem to be of the "heck of a job" mindset, protovega.

    I’m happy to tell you about myself, and that’s why I went on camera for the Fox piece.; this is Joel. I’m defending liberties that are in the Constitution, while you’re advocating trading them away, in defense of bad security measures. The contrast is clear.

    And I’m happy to meet with LaSalle to discuss their security policies. One problem: even their personnel don’t know what they are, there’s no consistent training in accord with the real target (Amtrak), and aren’t always responsive.

    I’d love to see smart security, instead of misdirected efforts. You know, the same thing Scott McClellan’s now saying about the Bush years?

  13. prontovega on June 1st, 2008 @ 1:53 pm

    After watching the video it seems to be apparent that the no photography policy is not being taken very seriously at Union Station. There seemed to be enough people taking pictures that the security there would have a hard time stopping everybody with a camera. I have taken pictures there myself, but that was long before this new policy. I agree that it’s a fascinating place to photograph. So, the question remains, why would security be trying to prohibit taking pictures there? I’ll leave it up to you to get to the bottom of this. Have you thought about asking the police what you would be charged with and why if they were to be called by security?

  14. jldc on June 1st, 2008 @ 5:03 pm

    As I stated in the news piece, and as stated on the Flickr thread that initiated all this, I did try to engage in a pleasant inquiry with security (and have tried previously) with only a rude and forceful non-response response.

    My God, prontovega, after watching the news story, how can you possibly wonder if people have asked security about their policy? The newsman did just that, and received no answer, as the security guard was trying to prevent an interview with Amtrak’s top national spokesman, wherein that spokesman was trying to explain that photography is allowed. Everyone’s jaw has dropped here except yours.

    You seem to be searching for some good reason for security’s behavior. If you find it, won’t you tell them? Because they clearly don’t know what they’re doing. It’s a thoughtless reflex, it is "security theater" as Don aptly said.

  15. prontovega on June 1st, 2008 @ 6:25 pm

    Read my last post again. I said you might get more information from the police, not the security guards.
    Try and calm down a little bit. You seem to be getting pretty worked up about this whole thing. Keep a clear head and you may get some real answers as to why security is not allowing the pictures.

  16. jldc on June 1st, 2008 @ 7:38 pm

    Thanks for the patronizing suggestion that I get a "clear head."

    That advice would be better sent to the security guards at Union Station.

  17. mikelicht on June 2nd, 2008 @ 6:03 pm

    That’s no security guard – he’s a TV critic! I can relate, man . . . .

  18. David (dkoran) on June 3rd, 2008 @ 12:13 pm

    Okay folks…


    I’l come at it with some idea of a ‘security’ viewpoint as I have worked in the area of linking physical security and virtual security together for a Fortune 125 multinational company. We’ve dealt with cameras, motion detection, intelligent facial recognition, the whole shooting match… none of it really works all that great. We also had security guards, an intelligence group and an executive protection branch to ensure the protection of our staff (the "grunts" of the organization) and leaders (the folks with three letter titles beginning with "C").

    (NOTE: I originally had a longer post written, this is the edit)

    You’re trying to protect an asset in the cheapest and yet most efficient and complete way possible. You have to look at the size and value of the asset. For say the POTUS, that’s why you have your extensive motorcade, high value, small size, high profile.. thus a lot of resources expended. For Union Station, medium value (transportation), large size (a lot to have to damage to have any real effect), and low profile (it’s a passenger train station that’s above ground, alternative methods to compensate for it’s loss are available).

    Given that value proposition, you are protecting the asset with the lowest cost per performance technology you can get… namely people. To lower the cost, the training is lax, and the detail (aka, number of people) is reduced. As your jurisdiction is split (Amtrak police, rent-a-cop [mall area], and D.C. Police or FPS for the streets and entrances), who covers what and what they can enforce is varied. This is only where I’d cut Union Station a break… and tying the rules [loitering, photography, littering, etc.], the coverage [actual security technologies], who pays for what to maintain [who pays the bills] together is difficult and hard to clarify. Any bad guys picking that building would have an easy time due to the perceived confusion, versus, say The Capitol, since that protection force is unified in many ways, and those folks know exactly what they are supposed to do and when they are supposed to do it… even if the public population that enters and exits those areas bear some resemblance, at times, to one another (tourists, visitors, patrons, etc.).

    So, per the discussion on photography and how it relates to the security of the building… very low. The sensitive areas of the complex are not contained within the main area under consideration (main lobby, stores, etc.). If somebody was looking at the fuel depot, control room, etc… different story… as those are the high value assets. Saying that the photographers are doing recon is utter nonsense. Don’t draw attention to what methods you use to protect an asset (rent-a-cops), as those will be the first bypassed by potential attackers (which is another reason the TSA screenings at airports are BAD in all sorts of ways). Your most effective method of asset protection is deterrence, but it doesn’t need to be in your face to get the message across. There are many ways to say "go away" without making it hostile… this is where Union Station got it terribly wrong.

  19. lax car service (unregistered) on November 17th, 2010 @ 6:58 pm

    That is pretty funny that they can’t even answer questions regarding the policies they are enforcing!

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