DISCLAIMER – I never advocate doing anything illegal and always try to stay within the legal limits of the law. This article is for informational and research purposes only and is to not be taken as advice of any kind – the Reader accepts all responsibility for trying/attempting anything read here.
Since the advent of the National Weather Service (NWS) there is no excuse for being blind-sided by a hurricane because they start giving advisories many days in advance of any storm approaching anywhere near US coastlines beginning from the mundane, “Hey guys, there’s a storm possibly headed our way.” to the more serious, “Stock up and/or get out!” all the way to, “You should have left yesterday. Good luck.” However, as in Hurricane Katrina, due to ignorance, arrogance, personal negligence, entitlement/privilege, or some other un-stated BS reason, some groups didn’t heed the warnings and paid the price – some with their lives. There are two last resort and rarely discussed evacuation sources, however both are very illegal: the Railroad and Intracoastal Waterway.
Railroads crisscross our country and have their own police force but still fall under the jurisdiction of state and federal laws, not to mention Homeland Security in some areas. On maps the railroads are marked by dashed lines (see below).
If forced to bug out on foot, I would attempt to find a railroad with a train on a side track and wait if it’s safe. A side track is where one train will pull off the main line, stop, and let a faster or more important train pass – it’s much safer to climb on a train that is stopped than one rolling down the tracks. Most of the railroads in the south are built on berms and are above the surrounding countryside giving some small protection from flood waters. A lot of the railroads travel near major highways and are fairly easy to find – they are even shown on most roadmaps.
The railroads don’t use cabooses any longer so finding a good spot to ride is more difficult. Finding an unlocked idling engine might be a good choice as long as you don’t tamper with the controls. A side benefit is if the engine is idling, you have a fantastic source to charge your phone and other devices, use the onboard heaters, fans, A/C if available), etc. while out of the harsh elements. The problem begins when the crew returns and finds you in the engine compartment; maybe they’ll be sympathetic to your survival plight if you didn’t damage anything (totally their choice here but realize if caught, you may be held and face charges for trespassing but at least you survived the storm alive. Boxcars are usually locked and if lucky to find an open one you need to be sure no one can secure or lock you inside, plus you need to be on alert for others on the move. Flatcars and tank cars are not a good choice because they are no very few places on them to offer protection from the weather and also be out of sight. The ends of Hopper cars appear to be the best choice for a concealed and weather free ride.
Advice if hopping a train: be forewarned it’s against the law to hop any train and you can be arrested and charged with multiple state and federal criminal offences – if you do it’s at your own risk, stay away from others, don’t start a fire on any type of rail car, stay as hidden and packed as possible in case you have to move out quickly, try to get on the train when it’s stopped, don’t argue and fight with the railroad crews if they catch you; politeness might buy you a continued ride where rudeness will surely get you kicked off the train and possibly arrested, be aware some railroad police are armed and well-trained. (NOTE: If I’m telling you this information as an on-looker be advised RR police will probably know it and much more.)
The Intracoastal Waterway is a mostly inland east-west water route across the Gulf of Mexico.
Catching a fishing boat or a tug and barge out of the area is possible but demands extreme caution. Boat Captains and their crews are a notoriously close-knit group; we know as we’ve investigated both for and against them. These are the men and women that the sheriff calls when a search and rescue or search and recovery needs to be conducted due to their experience on the area waterways. Stowing away is against the law and you can be arrested and charged with multiple state and federal criminal offences. Most are nothing but nice but many of them live and work in the marsh and swamps and know how to cook and eat stuff that will eat you. If they like you, you’ve got friends for life. If you’re nosing around be very careful and don’t ever think you “fit in” or that they don’t know you’re an outsider. The Cajuns and other residents of the coastal areas are a very tight knit group that like to stay out of each other’s business and that’s the way they keep it. It’s best to let them learn to “like” you instead of forcing friendship and being all “faux-friendly.” And don’t forget you’re going to need mosquito spray. Lots of it.
There are many different types of boats in southern waterways and on the Intracoastal Waterway. The hard part is getting on a boat (tug, barge, etc.) and staying there undetected and would not be worth the effort if caught. Bear in mind, the Intracoastal Waterway is through mostly marsh, swamps, gators, and other things that can eat you or at minimum hinder your progress if thrown off the boat – you’ve been warned to be nice. Boats range in size from small fishing boats to large party/house boats, offshore rig supply boats, tugs and barges.
Always treat a man’s boat as his home because it is part-time. Never enter onto a man’s boat uninvited or unannounced. Always ask for and wait for permission. There are much bigger ships but there under the supervision of the US Navy, Coast Guard, Homeland Security, and other US government agencies so I’d avoid them at all costs if you wish to remain a free man.
We’ve installed Uniden scanners in the truck and used handhelds when on foot for many years. The railroad and maritime frequencies have always provided entertainment and information. We’re retired and no longer work in the coastal areas but do visit there occasionally. While we’re there if a storm is forecast for the area, believe me we’re topping off the fuel tanks, replenishing any supplies we’ve used, and heading out to the Village of Elsewhere well before the evacuation traffic, food, and fuel rationing begin.
Editors Note: As Jim has noted multiple times, the article is theoretical and not something we advise doing do to legal and safety concerns. That being said, we do like the idea of using old rail lines as bugout routes out of town — in fact, many of the nation’s old railroad tracks can legally be used for hiking (or bugging out during an emergency). A great resource for this is the maps and books by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.
Also, If you do live near one of these waterways a good fishing kayak or emergency boat may be something you want to think about adding to your bugout planning and gear.