The Dangers of Taking Photos on Train Tracks

The photography trend of walking on live railroad tracks has ended in fatal consequences.
7:34 | 10/17/15

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Transcript for The Dangers of Taking Photos on Train Tracks
Joust how far would you go for a flawless photo? As people go to dangerous extremes to get a picture-perfect snapshot, they often ignore the risks. Accidents becoming more frequent, sometimes deadly. Tonight, one mother shares her haunting cautionary tale with ABC's Jim Avila. Reporter: It's an American scene. Just a couple of happy kids celebrating young love in the country. Two 16-year-olds dancing and jumping on empty railroad tracks in rural Maryland. They went there that day to do the photography project. Reporter: A class project to take inspirational photos. These filled with metaphors of youth. Just starting out on the pathway yet to come. John John is the boy next door. Neighborhood model posing with his girlfriend. He loved a thrill. He wasn't reckless, but he definitely loved adventure. He loved to laugh, he loved to be a little bit scared. Reporter: Right up until an amtrak train travels upwards of 70 miles per hour surprised John John, his girlfriend, and her twin sister, the photographer. The wind from the speeding locomotive pushing the girls back. But the cold, hard steel of the 200-ton powerhouse crushing the boy before he could jump to safety. Everything changed. Everything changed. 24 hours ago we learned an amtrak train hit and killed a high school student. How is it the two girls were able to survive and John was not? They were standing to the side of the tracks. And John was standing on the tracks. Balancing on the beams. And they just escaped. I mean, it was almost a triple tragedy. So they saw it, and it was just -- And it happened so quick. They almost got sucked in. That's how close they were. But your son never saw it? He didn't see it till the last minute. And he couldn't get out of the way in time. Reporter: Christine got the news from John John's screaming girlfriend and her life stopped. This is a picture of John. He was riding on a tractor that day. Reporter: She sleeps in his room now because it smells like him. It's the only room I want to be in. I feel him with me. Reporter: And she looks at those pictures. So him, and so tragic. The pictures that they took the moments before my son died are beautiful. He's at peace and he's happy. You could see it's just them doing a sweet project together. Nobody was horsing around, nobody was fooling around. And it's just -- a horrible, horrible accident. Reporter: These teens are not the only ones allured by the tracks. Hard to believe but train track photography has become a thing. A dangerous trend. People are doing it across the country. From the family that took this viral picture of mom being rescued by husband Batman and their boy wonder robin on a abandoned tracks in Wisconsin. Knowing what we know now, that it was illegal, we wouldn't -- I don't think we would do it again. Reporter: No tragic ending here but the internet did blow up in scorn for what critics called an unnecessary risk. Then there's the celebrity fitness expert from bravo, Greg pip, who died during a photo shoot. He had posted videos of workouts on the tracks before. Even professionals can get hurt. This Hollywood movie went on location in rural Georgia for a dramatic opening sequence for the film "Midnight rider." Leading to real-life terror on the trestle. Watch as this train unexpectedly swept across T bridge leaving little room for the actors to escape, killing one camera assistant left behind. I just kept saying over and over, lord help us. Reporter: It was revealed later they were filming without a permit. The director sentenced to two years in jail for involuntary manslaughter. Sarah was the first person I saw. She was lying on the side of the tracks, dead. Reporter: So why is this happening? Walking on the railroad track deaths are up nearly 10% already this year. Nearly 500 last year alone. Many of them taking selfies or traditional camera shots on the rails. Yesterday in Florida, photographer Kelly Cortes took this video of a shoot she conducted on the tracks. A family who wanted a keepsake picture. To allow us to have something very unique. Reporter: Kelly says her shoots are safe. She stays near an intersection of road and track for an easier escape and puts a penny on the track, believing it will vibrate long before a train gets near her. You have be smart, be responsible, do your due diligence. You can never judge a train's speed. It's an optical illusion. If it's a tie you're going to lose. Reporter: Railroad engineers we rode with argue there is no safe way to take rail pics. The roar of the engine follows the train. The sound surprisingly quiet as it speeds toward you. And the tracks are narrower than the train itself, making it hard to judge safe clearance. A fully loaded freight train weighs as much as 6,500 tons. That's like 2,500 african elephants running at you. It can take 18 football fields to stop. Anywhere from one to two minutes from emergency brake to full stop. Once the engineer decides to put the train in emergency and he's seen you, it's too late. Reporter: Charles Samuels, an engineer on Norfolk southern in Virginia, says he sees people on the tracks every day. It haunts him. Gives him what he calls railroad dreams. They don't know how it's going to affect me, you know, if I kill them or hurt them. They're not worried about that. They're worried about their shot. Reporter: "Operation lifesav lifesaver" works with railroads including union pacific to release public service announcements, trying to slow down the rail photo trend. What is he thinking? See tracks, think train. The simple truth is, people are not able to get out of the way in time. We tell people a very simple message, stay off the tracks. It's illegal, it's dangerous, it can be deadly. Reporter: For student photographer Jeremy sprites, his rail photo days are over. He was on the tracks just a few yards away the day John John was hit by this train. The pictures taken here don't look so romantic anymore. I definitely don't think his passing was worth taking pictures on a train track. You never expect it to happen. Reporter: Which brings us back to John John's room in rural Maryland where his mother wishes she had said no on that summer day when her son and friends had the innocent idea to take some pictures on the railroad tracks. Just out of the blue. Just -- your life stops. Everything changed. Everything is broken and it can't be fixed. He's never coming home again. Reporter: That photogenic metaphor of the pathway ahead too often just a dead end. For "Nightline" I'm Jim Avila in boyds, Maryland.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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