NORTH PLATTE, Nebraska — They are a common sight in North Platte. Often appearing haggard and worn, homeless travelers, can be seen walking down streets or sitting on corners — especially during the summer months.
Many times, they carry signs appealing for handouts. Other times, they are simply passing through, The North Platte Telegraph reported (http://bit.ly/1q8ZptL ).
Whatever their intentions, transients end up in the community for the same reason many other visitors do.
"We're centrally located," said Roland Kramer, chief deputy for the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office. "Interstate 80, Highway 83 and Highway 30 bring them in."
Not all transients travel the roadways, however. Some hop a train.
"We do have security in and around Bailey Yard," said Mark Davis, director of corporate relations and media for Union Pacific Railroad. "On the main lines, away from the yard, we still have security, but it's not as concentrated. Railroad dispatch gets calls daily of people on trains, which is extremely dangerous."
Unlike the homeless people of days gone by, there's not much romance associated with today's illegal rail travelers. An internal communication system still exists among them, but it's more sophisticated than it used to be.
"They don't draw symbols on buildings and trees anymore," Kramer said. "Much communication is online."
One such group that uses the web to communicate is the Freight Train Riders of America, a dangerous gang that has been linked to everything from drug trafficking and thefts to brutal assaults and murders over the years.
According to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, the Freight Train Riders of America was established in 1984 by a group of Vietnam veterans in Montana.
The reference service describes the group's members as "predators who will do whatever it takes to survive and they do not mind killing people in the process."
According to the reference service, most of the members carry knives. Some also carry large sticks, ax handles or guns to threaten and bludgeon victims.
Because they travel by train, they can quickly leave the scene of a crime and be miles away by the time law enforcement obtains suspect information.
Kramer said the majority of transients who jump off trains around North Platte aren't dangerous. However, there's no way to immediately tell who is or isn't.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, an estimated 46 percent of homeless adults live with a severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders.
Data from the American Psychological Association indicates the homeless have higher rates of tuberculosis and HIV and AIDS than the general population. Sexually transmitted diseases are prevalent among some subgroups.
For safety reasons, Kramer recommends not making contact with transients or providing them with handouts.
Davis asks that people hitching a ride on trains be reported to the UPRR dispatch center at 888-877-7267.