The high price of doing graffiti on railway property

Drive by any rail yard or take a close look at a freight train as it passes, and you’ll undoubtedly notice that railway cars have become a popular “canvas” for graffiti artists. The act of spray-painting or tagging private property is illegal, no matter the location. But doing it on railway property can also be deadly—something Jamie McAllan knows all too well.

On Hallowe’en night in 2010, her 18-year-old son, Dylan Ford, was killed by a train while doing graffiti. He was one of five teens who had climbed over a concrete wall to spray-paint graffiti in a railway tunnel. The teens, aged 17 to 19, didn’t see or hear a train coming down the tracks, and weren’t able to get out of its way in time. Dylan and two other boys were killed in the incident.

Dylan’s tragic story is the subject a new video produced as part of Operation Lifesaver’s #STOPTrackTragedies campaign. The video is being unveiled during Rail Safety Week, from September 18th to 24th. In it, Jamie talks about her son’s incident and the message she has for other graffiti artists. Here’s some of her conversation with Operation Lifesaver.
How would you describe Dylan?
Dylan was so much more than his graffiti. Since the day he was born he was special. I know all parents say that about their kid. But you know what? He was special. He was completely different. He was strong. He was very personable. He was very friendly and so loving. He was an amazing kid. He really was. And the best thing was, he totally loved me. We had each other's back. We did everything together.
When did Dylan start doing graffiti?
Dylan started doing graffiti when he was about 13 years old. There were traces around the house that kind of led me to realize what he was doing. And as he got older, it became a constant conversation in our house. It was one of our biggest fights, actually. I was constantly asking “What are you doing?” and “Why are you doing this?” My biggest worry was that he'd get hurt. And in the end, that's what happened.
What kind of places was he doing graffiti?
He did it everywhere—anywhere that it would be up high and seen, like on the side of the highways or on top of tall buildings. The higher up, and the more visibility, the better. His tags are all over the city—especially downtown—and yes, a lot of them are around the train tracks, which I only discovered after his incident.
What happened the night Dylan died?
The last conversation we had was on the phone, and he said he was at a Hallowe’en party, and that he was heading home. But then a couple of his friends said, “Let's go paint.” And they did.
They were close to the downtown core, and they were painting in a railway tunnel as a train was coming into its final destination. It was late and the train was basically like a bullet in the dark—no one saw it coming. There were five of them, and three died.
If you could speak directly to a young person, like Dylan, who was putting their life at risk doing graffiti, what would say to them?
Don't do it. It's just dumb, and it's really not worth it. Don't do graffiti on train tracks. It can destroy everybody's life—not just your own. If I can save one child's life, or anybody's life out there, I would tell them: do not play on train tracks.
How have you personally been able to recover from Dylan’s tragedy?
That night destroyed a lot of families. There was a lot of love lost—for parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles. And I haven't recovered. I've processed it, let's say. But you never get over it. You process it the best you can.
The one thing that I do now is I've taken all the love that I shared with Dylan—because it was very, very special—and I share it with all my friends’ kids. I love children. That's what keeps me going.