Freight Train Riders of America

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The Freight Train Riders of America (FTRA) is an American gang of homeless people who move about by freight hopping in railroad cars, particularly in the northwestern United States and are linked to many violent crimes.[1]

History and background[edit]

The origins of the FTRA can be traced to a group of ex-Vietnam veterans who founded the group in 1984 in Montana.[2] Members of the FTRA claim to be a loosely knit club of homeless people organized for mutual support. In 1998, the SPLC stated that there could be as many as 1,000 FTRA members, other experts state that their membership could range between 600 and 3,000.[3][4] FTRA members are most frequently encountered along the BNSF Railway's Hi-Line,[1] which stretches from Chicago to Seattle, often sleeping in switching yards, bridge underpasses and boxcars along the route. While the "elite" of the FTRA ride the hi-line and are recognized by the color black worn in a bandanna usually with a conch for a slide, the mid-line wears a blue bandanna, and those who ride the Union Pacific "Sunset Route" from Southern California to El Paso wear either a red or desert camouflage-colored one.

Criminal accusations[edit]

Retired Spokane police officer Bob Grandinetti has specialized in investigating the FTRA, both as a Spokane police officer and since his retirement. He has linked members of the group to food stamp fraud, illegal drug trafficking, and hundreds of thefts, as well as brutal assaults and murders committed against other transients, hobos, and freighthoppers.

A series of murders of transients along the rails committed by a serial murderer, Robert Joseph Silveria Jr. (aka "Sidetrack"), led to police and media attention on the FTRA, including a May 1996 murder which led to the FTRA's being profiled on America's Most Wanted. Silveria claims to have not been a member of the FTRA, but former police officer Bill Palmini, in his book Murder on the Rails about the Silveria murders, says he was a member. Robert Silveria is currently serving a double life sentence in Oregon for the murders.

Michael Elijah Adams (aka "Dirty Mike"), 48, a native of Michigan who started hopping trains at age 14. He would go on to kill more than 16 fellow drifters, according to his reckoning [5] He is serving 15 years to life for the killing of train-rider John Owens in Placer County, California. He's also a suspect in murders in Texas and Washington state, among others. According to the Henrico County prosecutor's office, a plea deal for life without parole is all set, waiting for the governor's office in California to sign off on Adams spending the rest of his life in prison in Virginia.

Realistically, any distinction of FTRA as an organization, or a count of its members, is a loose one at best due to the circumstances inherent to rail-riding, and to homelessness in general. This also speaks to the contradictory information regarding whether or not FTRA is a criminal group. Author Richard Grant writes that various FTRA members, including founder Daniel Boone, claim that the FTRA was 'founded' on the basis of camaraderie between people sharing a similar lifestyle, and not as a criminal organization.[6]

The FTRA in popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Valdemar, Richard (30 November 2007). "The Freight Train Riders of America - Where getting railroaded is even more ominous than it sounds.". Police Magazine. Retrieved 7 July 2015. 
  2. ^ Howard; Burke, T (Oct 1998), "Train Gangs Today: Another Threat to Law Enforcement", Law and Order, 46 (10): 117–120 
  3. ^ "Hobo Killings Probed", SPLC Intelligence Report (89), 1998 
  4. ^ Douglas, P (20 September 1998), "Trackside Terrorists", Florida Times Union, retrieved 7 July 2015 
  5. ^ Holberg, Mark (3 March 2016). "Admitted train-hopping serial killer is proud, looking forward to 'retirement' in Virginia prison". AOL. Retrieved 3 March 2016. 
  6. ^ Grant, Richard, Ghost Riders: Travels With American Nomads (London, 2003), p.271
  7. ^ Wilson, Scott Bryan "Riding Toward Everywhere by William T. Vollmann" Quarterly Conversation

External links[edit]