Walk along railroad tracks

Post SHTF; Walking Along Railroad Tracks

Walk along railroad tracks

Walking along railroad tracks is a dangerous thing in more ways than one. But just like roads, railroads crisscross the nation from one town to another; often unseen or unnoticed by most people as their mostly hidden tentacles weave their way from here to there.

These rails may provide an alternative path of travel during a post-SHTF collapse, and is something that most people will not think about…

I’ve read a-lot of ‘survival’ novels which invariably will describe encounters with roadblocks during post-SHTF travel, many of them very dangerous with looters waiting for their prey. Back-roads may be a better choice in some circumstances, but if on foot, what about railroads? It’s an alternative, but it also presents risks…

First, let me say this… even during ‘normal’ times, railroads are very dangerous.

It is an excellent place to get injured or killed. Footing is poor in most cases and a sprained or broken ankle can be in the offing. Do not walk on the tracks.

Walking on top of the rail is a great way to slip and fall. Hit your head on the other rail and you’ll be laying unconscious when run over.

There is also a thing called “flash,” found on the inside, top of the rail. Flash is thin strips of metal that have been worn off the rail by the wheels passing over it and they are just as sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel. It’ll lay your skin open quite nicely, should your ankle come in contact with it.

Think you’ll hear a train coming? Don’t bet your life on it. Locomotives don’t always pull cars around. They shove ’em, too. The engine may be a mile away and equipment can sneak up on you in near silence. At other times, freight cars will be found rolling on their own; no locomotive to hear and no one to shout a warning.

And, some of the people who hang around the tracks and yards are not usually the type of folks you’ll want to spend any time with, after being beaten to a pulp and robbed.

Having said all that, and under a worst case scenario whereby the thin veneer of civil society has collapsed and we are living within social chaos, the rail system presents an alternative means to route from one place to another.

Under these post-collapse conditions, even though the rail system itself may be no longer functioning, following railroad tracks on foot from one place to another may be just as dangerous… or maybe not.

In one way, it is a network of mostly unseen routes which may be hardly traveled as those who do travel will likely remain on familiar ground – the roads.

In another way though, those who do walk alongside the rails will be visible to others who may be off to the side, maybe just inside the woods, etc. This could be dangerous, but it may be less dangerous than traveling the roads on foot during the same post-SHTF collapse environment. Chances are that you will run into fewer encounters along the rail, but when you do… it will potentially be equally as dangerous.

You may choose to follow the rails but off the visible cut line, just inside the cover of the edge, the woods, etc. Better unseen that way.

Here’s an important thing though… how many people have any idea whatsoever as to where the rails are and where they go? Answer… Hardly anyone at all.

So, it may be a good idea to add to your knowledge base, the maps of these railroads. Apparently there is such a thing as a Railroad Road Atlas.

Or look online for railroad maps, nationwide, regional, state, and then print them.

It’s something to consider and is a method of adapting your travel needs post-SHTF.


  1. Even in the depression, the railroads thrived. My father was a fireman on the Norfolk &???????. He told me stories of the railroad bulls/thugs that would knock heads anyone caught riding the train. The railroad easements are private property and they can’t watch it all, but they will be watching in the cities. The hobo’s of yesterday would get off at the edge of town walk around town, the get back on the train or walk the line. Anybody walking the line will get tired enough to attempt a ride, guaranteed! Today, the empty boxcars are closed, was not so then. The doors were always left open, times change. Little communities will spring up along streams & bridges where water will be found at the edge of towns. This is where the news will be told/places to sleep & food found. People will be just going, just like in the depression, where to, anywhere but here.

    1. Brings back memories of my college days when me and a bunch of buddies ‘jumped’ several trains (via their open-door box cars) to make our way to Galveston during Spring Break one particular year… free transportation… Didn’t get much sleep that trip ;)

  2. Any residential buildings near railroad tracks in most cases do house questionable clientele, partly because it is hard to get people to live next to railroad tracks that are active. Thereby the lower rent is a reflection of that. I happen to know of one such apartment complex that does house its fair share of what society considers undesirables. Not to say all people are bad, I happen to know of some elderly and down on there luck people that live in this complex. As far as railroad maps I notice that some of my older maps do show railroad lines on them but most of the new ones do not. I think in a SHTF senario where I was stuck walking I would most likely stick to the RR bridges for crossing a river as I feel that road crossing on a bridge would be the most likely place for an ambush as it would be a natural bottleneck for travelers.

  3. Most of the rails around here have been torn up in a “rails to trails” frenzy. They weren’t being used anymore, so now there are nicely landscaped trails all over.
    However, we do still have our main North/South rail which is really busy bringing all that GMO corn we grow here to one of the world’s largest methanol plants that’s located just the other side of our nearest small town (about 8 miles away).
    Back when I was still able to ride my horses, railroads were a great place to trail ride, a lot of people do that, and we all know where all the tracks are and where they go. More importantly, we also know where NOT to ride, because those areas are frequented by people you don’t want to interact with.

  4. I grew up near railroad tracks that are now beautiful walking and biking trails.Back when it was the railroad,it was the quickest way for me to go to or from school.It was also very desolated back then with no one around,but that has changed.I always carried a walking stick,and this was long before they became popular.Did run into a few questionable ones over time,but fortunately nothing happened.Also the danger of being hit was a constant,as there was no set schedule,as it was not a main line,so yes,I was nearly hit more than once!

  5. The other obstacle is fencing – often high, razored, and multiple layers. This creates a barrier that you may have to cut to get into the corridor and once in, you may be trapped in the case of an ambush. This may not be the case in less populated areas but around any population center fences will be a plenty. And before you go cutting or jumping any of them you better be damned sure that S has indeed HTF because if any kind of law enforcement exists, in most cases it’s a federal penalty. And I can tell you that AMTRAK takes that VERY seriously and will arrest you on the spot even if you trespassed by accident.

    1. That’s good insight about the fencing. No doubt there is much of it alongside the tracks within populated areas, depending on the track and who owns it. And also fair warning about the possibility of being arrested “pre” SHTF in today’s police state of paranoia.

      1. Ken, talking about bike trails – same rules for potential undesireables apply there too. Had some reports of attacks on the local bike trails in the past few years; a man hiding in the brush nearby and ambushing passers-by.

  6. walking along railroad (railway in the UK) tracks is very dangerous in a SHTF situation, many other people will have the same idea, so will the criminals and bandits who will thrive on what they can take from travellers passing by their (well concealed) ambush position, a better idea would be to stay off the tracks by walking parallel to them.

    1. I agree, and the dangers should be well noted. As mentioned in the article, “You may choose to follow the rails but off the visible cut line, just inside the cover of the edge, the woods, etc. Better unseen that way;” it will certainly be safer walking parallel and outside the visible open area, even though travel will be much slower.

  7. openstreetmap dot org

    has a layer option (transportation)that shows RR tracks

    1. Thanks for the resource… a unique map viewer. Impressive how it can zoom in and display the location of buildings and homes, similar to Google Earth, except in map view rather than satellite view. The transport layer does indeed show RR tracks.

  8. what about in a SHTF scenario when vehicles are still operable – would it be ok to drive your 4X4 or SUV down the tracks instead of hitting road blocks and traffic jams of everyone on the roads and highways? someone above me mentioned scraps of metal on the tracks so I don’t know about your tires but… if you could straddle the rails – you could go for miles and miles to your destination without even thinking about smashing in someones bumper haha… just a thought

  9. Here’s a couple of side notes about railroad tracks and prepping:

    It’s not uncommon in my area to find railroad slag along the tracks. That can vary based upon how it was produced and the age in which the slag was produced. Some of it looks just like obsidian, a fact that confused me as a grade school budding amateur rockhound. My teacher picked it up, for he also often walked along the tracks and said, “Naw, but it’s a fine piece of slag that you could flintknap.”. That’s something worth remembering as you might need to flintknap an arrow tip as a replacement someday.

    There are quite a few amateur blacksmiths who will harvest a railroad spike into an excellent knife. I urge you to look that up. This would make a great trade item and some survivors post-collapse might harvest the metal for the blacksmith in your tribe.

  10. While researching my “get home from work” walking plans a year ago, and mapping a route from work to home, I noted that I would have to pass through some roadway areas between my work and home locations, that might become questionable or dangerous during a SHTF scenario. I then remembered that there is a cargo rail line adjacent to the industrial park I work in. I studied Google maps and traced the single cargo track rail line from my work, almost all the way to my home suburb, a distance of about 20 miles. This rail line paralleled, by some 6 miles, and bypassed the questionable areas, with most rail walking through the backyards of more affluent suburbs, or remote areas. Using the Google map “street view” function, I was also able to view in both directions of track, where any street intersected with the rail line, thereby familiarizing myself with brush and tree line cover, nearby homes, and exact area where public streets crossed the rail. Having researched this, I am now confident that the rail line method of travel will provide me with the safest path to home.

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