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A group of young men who brazenly posted live photographs of a freight train surf from Perth to Adelaide have been branded "just plain dumb" and their actions "extremely dangerous" as authorities appear hamstrung to do little more than issue small fines.
None of the men were arrested or charged when police finally caught up with them near Port Wakefield, about 90 kilometres from Adelaide on Tuesday morning - ending a saga that had played out online for nearly three days.
They had travelled more than 2400 kilometres across the Nullarbor Plain, where temperatures reached close to 40 degrees, before being spotted by a train controller, according to a spokesperson for the train operator.
From Perth to Adelaide - train surfers live update their exploits.
The freight train was brought to a stop, but the men - aged in their mid to late 20s - fled from rail workers before being found by Port Wakefield police.
Over their journey, the men posted photos on the flatbeds of the train, standing on the roof of carriages and even one break-dancing move at the rear of a flatbed carriage.
A South Australian police spokesman said the long-haul train surf was "an extremely dangerous" act.
Train surfers from Perth to Adelaide.
"We would strongly discourage anyone from doing this," he said.
But even after they were confronted by police, the group continued uploading images of themselves to the photo sharing app Instagram, smiling, hitchhiking and even posing with police cars.
This image - posted on Instagram - shows the ridiculous danger in which the freight train surfers placed themselves.
They received on-the-spot fines of $165 each for riding on a non-carriage area of a vehicle, according to the South Australia Police spokesman.
The fine was about half the minimum cost of a rail ticket from Perth to Adelaide aboard the Indian Pacific, on which ticket prices start at $315 per person.
Meanwhile, fines for travelling on Transperth trains without a valid ticket range from $100 to $500 - meaning the "surfers" could potentially have received larger fines for riding inside a metropolitan train without a ticket.
Despite the potentially fatal consequences of the practice, train surfing or offences relating to riding on train roofs do not appear to exist under the Criminal Codes of Western Australia or South Australia.
The much-publicised trip ended up 90 kilometres short of Adelaide, with the travellers trying to hitchhike and the police waiting.
"In 35 years in practice I've never seen anyone charged with this sort of offence and as far as I'm aware there is no such offence per se in Western Australia," Lawyers Alliance WA president Tom Percy QC said.
"However, the inventiveness of prosecutors never ceases to amaze me and I would not be surprised if someone at the DPP could find a home for this sort of activity under some obscure provision of the Criminal Code."
Mr Percy said he did not advocate creating new offences but it might be something "worth having a look at."
"Whilst I'm not one for advocating the wholesale creation of new offences in a knee jerk reaction to one-off events, I suspect that it wouldn't take much arm twisting to have our current crop of politicians look at creating a new offence to deal with this sort of thing," he said.
The Australian rail industry created the not-for-profit trackSAFE Foundation in March to reduce near collisions, injuries and fatalities on Australian rail networks associated with reckless behaviour.
trackSAFE statistics revealed there were 1800 trespass incidents on rail property in 2011, which resulted in 35 fatalities.
A trackSAFE spokesman described the behaviour of the men as "just plain dumb," and potentially fatal.
"This sort of behaviour is extremely dangerous because one small mistake can have fatal consequences," he said, adding that their online campaign was "highly inappropriate".
Adolescent psychopathology professor and psychologist Stephen Houghton said it was young men who tended to perform risk taking behaviour that involved "deliberately overt dangerous physical activities" like train surfing.
These sort of young men tended to chase notoriety from their peers - something that has only been exacerbated by social media, Dr Houghton said.
"If you're going to do something that you're going to get noticed about then it has to be communicated to others," he said.
"Now that you've got social media you can get out to a much wider audience - that's an even greater way to enhance your status.
"There's no way now that you can prevent the visibility of this and that's a huge problem."
And with the wider audience that social media brings, comes greater risk of others being inspired to take even greater risks, he said.
"There's always the risk that people that are following it will want to do better," he said.
"They see the benefits as outweighing the risks."
Dr Houghton said despite their hunger for fame ignoring these individuals would be "very dangerous".
"Any punishment would have to be swift and would have to be meaningful," he said.
This article first appeared on www.watoday.com.au
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