Norton Seeks Uniform Photo Rules for Station

Posted July 28, 2008 at 6:12pm

Congress has asked Union Station to draw up a clear policy on photography following a hearing last week at which it became apparent that there has long been confusion over rules regarding shutterbugs at the historic railway station.

“The public access grievances of residents and others are particularly disturbing to me,” said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who is chairwoman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management. “We had Union Station gloriously redone precisely because we wanted it to be a majestic public space. I want it to be photographed.”

Because the station is managed by three different entities — the Union Station Redevelopment Corp., the leaseholder Ashkenazy and management agent Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. — the photo policy, as it relates to media and amateur photographers, has not always been clear. Citing First Amendment violations, Norton has requested an outline for a new policy within 30 days and a final policy within 60 days.

“I’ve asked them to get a First Amendment lawyer and others who are experts in this matter,” she said. “I’m not saying that every corner of the facility should be open at all times, but you need to have somebody familiar with the caseload do it rather than flying by the seat of their pants the way they have been.”

Norton has also offered the subcommittee staff as a resource, saying that Union Station should not shoulder all the blame for conflicting rules.

“I suppose the important point is to understand that these people have been left without any Congressional oversight despite the fact that it’s a federal facility,” she said. “They’ve made rules up as they go along and some of these rules violate the First Amendment.”

Amtrak spokeswoman Karina Romero said the company, which operates out of the station, traditionally allows ticketholders to take photos on the platforms of the station and allows nonticketholders to shoot in the waiting area. She added that Amtrak is ready and willing to draft a photography policy with Jones Lang LaSalle Inc., Ashkenazy and the Union Station Redevelopment Corp.

“The difficulty here is that so many entities are involved. It’s not all Amtrak,” she said. “It’s confusing for us. It’s confusing for those people who have to enforce it, as well as the customer.”

The delegate credits testimony delivered at last week’s hearing by amateur photographer Erin McCann, who has repeatedly dealt with the vague policy, as the impetus for taking action. McCann presented to the committee detailed records of when and why she has been asked to stop taking photos at the station. The reasons she was stopped vary from the type of camera she used to guards simply telling her there is a no-photography rule.

“There are communication breakdowns on so many levels because there are so many people that are supposed to be in charge of Union Station and no one person will go and say, ‘Knock it off and let these people take their pictures,’” McCann said in a phone interview.

There is currently a sign on the entrance doors leading to the station that says photography is prohibited. Norton wants to see this removed, along with other signs claiming the building is private property. She is also asking that the rules be posted on the station’s Web site.

Another key to a clear policy is making sure all the security guards at the station know what the rules are, Norton said.

“The photo policy, for example, will not matter if the security guards have not been totally retrained,” she said. “We have got to see a new training regimen so everybody is saying the same thing.”