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Train Tramps Ride Rails of Crime Across United States

NCJ Number
Police: The Law Enforcement Magazine Volume: 21 Issue: 11 Dated: (November 1997) Pages: 14-18
M Matthews
Date Published
5 pages
A little-known criminal syndicate called the Freight Train Riders of America (FTRA) has an estimated membership of 2,500 to 5,000 transients and may be responsible for many homicides and other crimes along the country's railroad systems.
The Federal Railroad Administration reported that 472 pedestrians were killed by trains and another 489 people were killed inside vehicles hit by trains during 1995 and 1996. Many of those determined by police to be suicides or accidents may actually have been homicides committed by FTRA members. In addition, the FBI reports that 60 confirmed homicides took place in or near trainyards during 1991-95. FTRA is heavily concentrated in the western and southern United States. The only law enforcement personnel who deal with them are usually railroad police, who ignore them unless they are damaging railroad freight or property. Drugs are one of the organization's main businesses; FRTA members often serve as drug runners for biker gangs. They also randomly rob other transients. They are usually armed. They wear colors. Tattoos head lice, crabs, and arrest records are common. Their gang cells have nicknames that indicate their antisocial and violent nature. Their main personality characteristic may be irrationality; many are alcoholics, drug addicts, or mentally ill. Their inability to communicate instantly by telephone or fax has kept them from becoming a major crime factor, although they may be renting safe houses in some cities. They often communicate by scrawling messages on walls, warehouses, or bridge abutments near the trainyards. They also find each other at jungle camps and hangouts. Case examples and photographs


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