February 10, 2006

London Underground and National Rail photography rules

It's become clear to me recently that there's a lot of confusion along staff, customers and police alike about what the rules are governing personal photography on London Underground and National Rail (Network Rail / ATOC members) stations and trains. Given the number of unpleasant incidents which have been documented over the last year or so, I thought it might be useful to all involved if I were to summarise the results of my various bits of both formal and informal research on what's allowed and what's not. This is just the result of a little web searching, so no responsibility accepted for advice taken, especially as I'm not a lawyer. Get that? I'm not a lawyer - the below just represents my understanding of what I believe to be the situation. You want legal advice, call a lawyer. Don't call me. If you want a UNIX system adminstrator, feel free to call me, but while sysadmins are an opinionated bunch, relying on them for legal advice is like relying on your lawyer to set up your new mail server. Sources are hotlinked.


There is no automatic legal right to take photographs on private property. For the basic legal issues surrounding photography in the UK in general, see (download, and print, and carry with you) Linda Macpherson's excellent summary.

Neither Transport for London or National Rail byelaws make any specific mention of photography. However, as with any private place you have no automatic right to be on a railway station, and can be asked to leave the premises if it's clear that you don't have any business with the railway (i.e. you're planning on travelling or meeting someone).

As far as I can understand it, nobody has any right to touch or interfere with your equipment or order you to turn over your film or memory cards. I need a little more research to confirm this, but I suspect that the only people who can do this are police officers, and then only in very specific situations. Under any other circumstances it's a criminal offence. (Not being a lawyer, I need independent confirmation of this. Have I said I'm not a lawyer enough times?)

Be aware that both the Official Secrets Act 1911 and Terrorism Act 2000 impose potential restrictions on what you can photograph. Even if you don't read any more of it, read and digest the National Security section of Linda Macpherson's guide.

London Underground

You may take personal photographs on the Underground, but you MUST NOT use flash. This is specifically addressed in section 4.5 of the Conditions of Carriage, which states that you must not (among other things) "take flash photographs and/or use a tripod or other camera support equipment". It's hard to disagree that this constitutes an implied permission to take the odd snapshot on the Underground. From experience, I'd also recommend that if your camera has an autofocus assist light that you either turn it off or tape over it if you can't - although it's not a flash, they can be pretty bright and I've had drivers complain about them over the PA before.

Notwithstanding the above, serious photography and filming requires prior permission and a permit from the (very helpful) LUL Film & Photography Office. While this doesn't seem to be stated explicitly, I guess this refers to "serious photography", as in photography for photography's sake and photography being the main reason for your being on the station, as opposed to a few snapshots while waiting for a train - the boundary is rather fuzzy, though, and I think this is what's leading to confusion. The permit itself states that station supervisors may also at their discretion permit the use of a tripod under circumstances if you're a permit-holder. Unfortunately, in my experience the type of camera being used seems to be being used as more of a determinant of whether photographs being taken are personal or not than the subject matter and the behaviour of the photographer. In any case, loitering on a station for a long time photographing passers-by or whatever most likely crosses the boundary between casual snapshots and serious photography.

If you are in possession of a permit, it does not give you carte blanche permission to take photographs. Final permission must be sought from the Station Supervisor on duty, and you will be required to sign in and out. Under most circumstances, photography authorised through the permit mechanism is only permitted during off-peak hours.

National Rail

The only source I can find here is the Guidelines for Railway Enthusiasts which have been rather unilaterally adopted by Network Rail and the various ATOC companies. These state that
Taking photographs on stations is permitted providing it is for personal use. For any commercial photography, prior permission must be sought from the appropriate train operator or, from Network Rail at their 17 major stations. On busy stations the use of a tripod may cause a dangerous obstruction to passengers and you may be asked not to use one. In addition, tripod legs must also be kept away from platform edges and behind the yellow lines. Flash photography on platforms is not allowed as it may distract the attention of train drivers and train despatch staff and is therefore a potential safety hazard. You are also not allowed to take photographs of security related equipment such as CCTV cameras.


This section is composed purely of my own personal opinion, but it's in the interests of everyone to be reasonable. Photographers, enthusiasts and the rules surrounding their activities have once again come under scrutiny recently because some people are quite rightly worried about unusual or suspicious activity. It's easy to simply dismiss these concerns as unjustified paranoia and an excuse for a clampdown, but given that everyone's a little nervous right now it's a good idea to try and understand their point of view.

Use common sense. It's hard to convince people that you're totally innocent if you're going around taking photos of, say, security doors or CCTV cameras rather than arriving trains and platform furniture.

If you do happen to get stopped or even searched by the police (most probably a stop and search under section 44 of the Terrorism Act) then it's most probably for a reason and it's probably easier to agree with good grace than to risk being detained for a few hours at the police station. You might want to check the BTP's guide to your rights and the responsibilities of the police if you're stopped using these powers.

Ultimately, it's in the best interests of everybody involved for enthusiasts and photographers to treat everyone in an official position who they encounter with courtesy and good grace. Going too far in the other direction could lead to photography getting forbidden altogether (after all, "no photos" is a far easier policy to interpret and enforce than the current "photos are usually okay, but.." policy, isn't it?), which would be a lose-lose situation all around. It's also in the best interests of everybody involved for any staff and police officers coming into contact with photographers and enthusiasts to treat them with courtesy and good grace in return, mind.

Posted by mpk at February 10, 2006 4:46 PM | TrackBack

Many thanks for this piece of information, I don't normally take pictures while travelling on the rail network, but have taken one or two pictures now and again, including while I have been travelling on the underground system. With the current terrorist threat, some hard rules need to be beaten out for photographers, so that we know what we can and cannot do while using the public transport system.

Posted by: Chris Palmer at February 15, 2006 11:01 PM

This site was absolutely BRILLIANT! I am currently at WAR with LUL over this issue. I have taken well over 1000 photos in the last 2 years of station buildings, platforms and roundels for a personal project. And several supervisors have just let me get on with it, whereas there have been a few who haven't. The female supervisor at WOODFORD station was MOST unhelpful. I have told LUL that I will NOT purchase a £25 photo permit AND continue my photography and what are they gonna do about it? I am sick of this issue, and I am so glad I read your site. Thanks.

Posted by: Dave Heath at January 21, 2008 1:24 AM

Hi, I think your using slightly confusing terms here when you say serious photography as aposed to professional photography. Not for profit personal photography ( we can call it hobby or armature - means nothing in terms of quality ) is allowed on LU with out a permit or charge. Professional photography requires a permit (and you do generally get more leeway in what you can do; tripods , lighting and so on.). That's the difference 8-)


Posted by: Peter Jones at March 5, 2008 4:29 AM
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