The On-Line Magazine of Rideable Model Railroading
  NUMBER 109


© May 19 2008   

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Rideable Scale Railroading
Lawsuit Survey Results


To get a better understanding of legal actions that have been taken against scale railroads in the United States, John Beck conducted an anonymous survey on  Here are some conclusions drawn from that survey.


Written by John Beck


Thanks to all of you who took the time to respond to the Discover Live Steam survey. As with most computer related projects, there were some glitches and we appreciate the time that those who responded took to work through them.

The number of clubs and individuals responding was pretty small (15) which could lead to several conclusions –

  1. People who have pending legal issues are afraid to even talk about this, or they may be under ‘gag’ orders.
  2. The actual number of incidents is lower than the level of discussion and "back ground noise" would imply.
  3. The problems have not affected some clubs/individuals, so why worry (or respond to a survey)?

My assumption is that those individuals/clubs who are unhappy, or threatened, or have an up-close and personal interest in this would be fairly likely to respond. The small number of responses seems to imply that there aren’t huge numbers of railroads in legal trouble right now – this is opinion not fact, but it is statistically true of typical survey response trends.

When I read through the web sites for the 56 railroads with e-mail listings (to develop the initial list of folks to e-mail) I was surprised at the number of clubs that reside in parks and are 501c.3 organizations. No matter if people responded or not, dealing with the public in a park setting is reality for a lot of large scale railroaders.


  • 27% of the respondents have been involved in legal action of some type.
  • 50% of those were railroad related, 50% were ‘park type’ accidents that could happen anywhere.
  • Only 25% went to trial, but even settling out of court can be a big problem. And, the person you ‘know’ won’t sue you doesn’t control the actions of their insurance carrier who may come after you…
  • No one indicated that they have ceased activities due to legal problems but a couple are in serious difficulty and may cease operations at some point in the future.
  • 100% have made changes in what they do including:
  • 36% allow only friends and railroaders to ride.
  • 14% have waivers that must be signed.
  • 14% ride the public on "T" riding cars only.
  • 7% have a broadcast safety message in the public loading area.
  • 7% don’t use steam locomotives on public run days (insurance and inspection considerations).


  1. The impact for the unhappy few who have ended up in court or legal actions is very, very high. The direct costs, stress, etc. are debilitating for everyone involved.
  2. If you accept that the 27% involvement rate listed above is accurate for the entire hobby, we are in big, big trouble. But, if the number of people in litigation is over-represented in the survey results, things may not be so bleak. If people who have a reason to discuss this are 10 times more likely to respond that the (apathetic) general population, then the real percentage is 3% or something like that… I really believe (again opinion) that if there are several dozen clubs or individuals out there with litigation, insurance or other issues threatening them, Jim and I would have heard from more than four of them!
  3. The first line of defense is to do everything you can to stay out of trouble in the first place!

As a start:

  • Think through your rules and training for operating personnel.
  • Think about the speed you run your trains.
  • Think about whom you let ride them.
  • Think about the equipment and right of way you use for public hauling.
  • Be aware of potential problems and don’t ignore them.
  • Think, operate, and act as a reasonable, prudent adult would be expected to.


Finally -

Again, thanks to all who took the time to answer the survey. If you have comments, please forward them to Jim. We can all benefit from a discussion of this issue – the ostrich approach isn’t going to work very well in the long run. And, running a solitary, hidden operation somewhere remote from the public isn’t the answer for all of us either. The cost in money and time are too great for many of us to "go it alone"…

With all its pitfalls, ‘hauling the public’ is a necessary and challenging part of the hobby for some of us. Done right, it can also be a lot of fun and very satisfying. There is nothing like a bunch of smiling children, parents and grandparents taking photos and saying "Thank you" while unloading after a good ride.

Have a great operating season!

Written by John Beck

the end

More Information: Article 73 also deals with this subject.

Here's our list of Insurance Companies

NOTICE: The information above is a combination of survey results and the conclusions drawn by the author. Comments here are only suggestions to help make your railroad more safe.  We did not include everything since we could  not think of every possible situation.  Please pass all safety and legal questions through a professional such as a lawyer or safety consultation firm.  Run as safe an operation as you can and be sure to share this unique model railroad experience with as many folks as you can.


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