Train hopping is the act of secretly jumping onto a freight train, and it has a long history in the United States. Although it’s probably nearly as old as rail travel itself, the act first gained widespread notice during the Great Depression, when thousands of so-called hobos hopped the rails to look for work — or just to see the country. The practice became less common after the Second World War, but it took on a distinctive romantic appeal through its depiction in popular culture over the years. There’s a memorable sequence involving train hopping in Amor Towles’ bestselling 2021 novel “The Lincoln Highway.” In fact, in recent years, a small, but growing subculture of freight train hoppers has evolved and shared their adventures and advice online.
But is train hopping legal?
No. It is absolutely not. Under Michigan law, hopping on a moving train is illegal for everyone except for railroad employees.
Beyond that Michigan statute, any unauthorized boarding of a train is considered criminal trespassing and is prosecuted as a misdemeanor. Those found in violation can face fines or even a jail sentence.
For some train hoppers, the possibility of getting caught is part of what makes it fun. Unfortunately, the practice comes with great risks. The Federal Railroad Administration said that 888 people died in railroad-related accidents in 2017, and as many as 575 of these were trespassers.
Freight trains are not made for passengers, and people who are riding the rails can be vulnerable in any number of ways while getting on or off a train, or even while inside a train car. Some have even frozen to death when a train unexpectedly takes them into bad weather.
If you have been charged with trespassing or any other crime, you have the right to an attorney. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you understand your rights and legal options.