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What is Train Surfing?

By Lori Kilchermann
Updated May 23, 2024
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Train surfing is the term given to the act of people illegally riding on the tops of train cars. Thrill seekers climb aboard slow-moving trains and climb to the top of the box-type train cars. As the train picks up speed, the thrill seekers take up position on the roof of the cars much like that of a surfer atop a surf board, hence the moniker train surfing. In a typical challenge, the winner is the person who continues train surfing the longest before climbing down and jumping off the train. This type of activity is illegal worldwide and results in the death or injury of many people every year.

There are several hidden dangers in train surfing that are not readily apparent to those doing the surfing. Some overhead dangers include low wires, sign posts and tunnels. Dangers such as loose hand rails on train cars or loose ballast along the train tracks can all lead to the loss of grip, causing a person to fall under the wheels of the train. Even the slack which develops between connected train cars can cause a train car to lurch violently ahead, resulting in a rider being thrown underneath the wheels. Even though train workers are schooled thoroughly on such conditions, many are still hurt or killed each year.

Besides the obvious dangers inherent in train surfing, the less obvious are typically the most dangerous. By simply attempting to jump off a train as it is picking up speed, train surfing can lead to death. Modern freight trains build up speed at an amazing rate. In a matter of a few city blocks, a slow-moving train can be operating at very fast speeds. This makes it nearly impossible for anyone train surfing to get off without injury, and it can also lead to a surfer becoming stuck on a train for a lengthy ride.

For those caught train surfing, a serious fine and/or incarceration may result. What may seem to be a harmless sport is in reality a life-endangering stunt, one where a slip or fall may lead to an amputation or funeral. For those not as familiar with train cars and their design characteristics, the attempt to board a certain car could lead to injury stemming from the car having only one grab rail or one step. For another, a spot of oil on the roof top could lead to a fatal fall.

WikiMotors is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By RoyalSpyder — On Jun 06, 2014

This article reminds me of those old action movies where the bad guy would escape on top of a train and the good guy would follow. Afterwards, it would lead to an epic showdown as the criminal attempts to get away with the money.

By Krunchyman — On Jun 06, 2014

I hope this doesn't sound like a silly question, but when someone is caught train surfing, how do the authorities go after them? After all, they're on top of a moving train, and it's not like the authorities would have an easy time getting on top of the train and trying to catch them, right?

By Euroxati — On Jun 05, 2014

Though I've never heard of training surfing until reading this article, it does sound incredibly foolish and life threatening, and something you may only see in movies. However, a lot of people are willing to try anything, so it's no surprise that others would attempt to do this. Also, though I don't know anyone in real life who has train surfed, I know you'd have to be very courageous to do so. I know I wouldn't have the guts, ha ha.

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