Photography on Railway Stations: Do you Need Permission?

I had about ten minutes untill the train to Rotterdam would roll into Utrecht Central Station. Just enough time to take some pictures. The hour, just after sundown, and a beautiful sky asked for it.

Photo made from one of the platforms on Utrecht Central railway station during the blue hour with the platform canopies, the station hall and the City Office

Station hall and City Office

So I walked to the end of the platform, put my camera on my mini-tripod and made two photos. First the one above with the platform canopies, the station hall and in the background the City Office. And secondly the photo below, with the new pedestrian bridge, the Rabobank building and a passing train.

Photo made from one of the platforms on Utrecht Central railway station during the blue hour with the new pedestrian bridge, the Rabobank building and a passing train


But was I allowed to make those photos? That question is not that strange. In the countries behind the former Iron Curtain you could be arrested for espionage if you were photographing at a railway station.

Waiting room in the railway station at Tilburg, the Netherlands, while a train passes by
Waiting for a train at Tilburg railway station


But also in the Grote Markt underground tram station in The Hague I was once ordered to stop making pictures by two security guys. And I had been working on construction drawings of that station when they were still in kindergarten!

Grote Markt Station in the Hague, The Nethelrands, with its wooden platforms and cave-lie concrete walls, part of the Souterrain, a.k.a. the Tramtunnel
Grote Markt Station. “Please stop making pictures, sir!”

Waiting time

But stations are such interesting photo locations, because of the lighting, lines, reflections and moving objects. And because every now and then you have to wait for your connection and in those cases taking a photo is a good way to shorten that waiting time.

the main hall at Delft railway station in the Netherlands
Main hall of Delft railway station


I presented the question to @NS_online, the always fast and helpful Twitter account of Dutch Railways.

Screenshot of a Twitter conversation between the author and Dutch Railways about photography on railway stations

The answer: for private use, of course it’s allowed; for commercial purposes you have to ask for permission.

A train rushes by at railway station Rotterdam-Blaak, Holland
Intercity train rushing by at Rotterdam Blaak


The address mentioned refers to a page on the website of Dutch Railways with guidelines on filming and photographing. That page confirms, with more words than fit in a tweet, that asking permission, for journalistic and commercial recordings, is recommended or obligatory.

It also says: “If you want to make photos or films for private use on publicly accessible areas of the station and in trains, you do not need permission for this.”

A kiosk and a train at Rotterdam central station
Rotterdam central station


In the added conditions of use it is said that private recordings must not disrupt train traffic and safety. And that the privacy of staff and travelers must be respected. But of course that’s only logical.

The railway station at Haarlem, The Netherlands
Haarlem railway station

Private or commercial?

However: where is the border between private and commercial? I did not make these two photos with a commercial intention; I was just waiting for a train and happened to have my camera with me. But if someone sees the pictures and wants to buy them, do I need permission? Or if I want to put them in my webshop, for example? To be on the safe side, I asked @NS_online again.

Screenshot of a Twitter conversation between the author and Dutch Railways about commercial use of photos made on railway stations

The answer came once again quickly: the conditions only apply to making the photo. What you do with it afterwards, we don’t have anything to say about that.

Escalators and platform at the railway station in Den Bosch, The Netherlands
Den Bosch railway station


In short: under certain conditions it is allowed to take photographs on railways stations, at least in the Netherlands. Although in these paranoid times you still have a chance that the police will consider you a potential terrorist. Well, in that case I hope they’ll understand that terrorists never use tripods.

A side entrance of the railway station in Arnhem, The Netherlands
Side entrance to the Arnhem railway station

Thank you for travelling RET

The sympathetic attitude of Dutch Railways is in stark contrast to the policies of some local transport companies. I already mentioned the HTM in The Hague; but they’re mild compared to the horrifying house rules of RET, the company that runs metros, trams and busses in Rotterdam. Photographing at Rotterdam metro stations is only possible between 10 am and 4 pm and must be requested three weeks in advance; there must be guidance from RET staff for which you’ll have to pay. I’m sorry, RET, this photo was made illegally, although I wasn’t aware at the time.

Metro station Hoogvliet in Rottrdam with a train at the platform and another one approaching, on a rainy day
Hoogvliet metro station

Frans Blok

My work explores the border regions of photography, painting and computer visuals. With my company 3Develop I do work in commission but I use the same techniques, skills and software to make free work. I am originally an architect and I live in Rotterdam; for that reason the architecture of that city is a major (but not the only) source of inspiration. But also travel to countries like Iceland and Britain, or walks in the Netherlands, provide much material. Seeing and showing quality and beauty, that is what my work is about.

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6 Responses

  1. Caterpillar says:

    In Amsterdam central station (underground) me and my girlfriend wearing two DLSR cameras, we have been asked by station officer to leave if we were not there to take a train, and he also said that if we were in Russia we could have been arrested.
    This paranoia against photography must end!

  2. Frans Blok says:

    Sorry to hear you had this experience in the Netherlands. The local public transport companies seem to be more paranoid about photography than the national railways.

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