The transient population who travel using the restored train systems are known as the rail riders. Most riders come from the southern half of the former United States, where the slightly warmer weather patterns and more fertile land allowed society to rebuild faster. Some travel to escape prejudice in their hometowns, but others come from cities built by human and Mixed cooperation that allow equal rights for Mixeds. Those who come from these cities travel in the hopes of spreading the idea that cooperation and equality are possible.
Most rail lines are partially destroyed, and some riders choose to go no farther than the ‘gaps’ while others will walk to the next town with a restored engine and continue. Many riders traveling toward Dalton choose instead to remain at the Oglala Pine Ridge nation, since Dalton’s extremely harsh policies toward outsiders are well known. Only a few are willing to take the risks of entering the city to share hopes of a future city where the Mixed are no longer slaves. Dalton also has no direct line into the city. The line ends in the middle of the Oglala nation, and Dalton never rebuilt trains, instead relying on carts to transport farm goods, since they were uninterested in trade with the rest of the restored cities. Riders therefore have to stop at the camp and then travel to Dalton on foot, avoiding Perimeter Guards and finding ways to slip through the Barrier. Some rebel groups like Anja‘s have formed partnerships with the riders to help them enter and leave the city more safely, but the risk is still great.
Riders live an incredibly dangerous life, and most serious riders do not last more than two years of it. Part of the danger is intrinsic to the riding itself. The trains are often cobbled-together rattletraps and engines have been known to catch fire, explode, or simply fall apart. Cars run off the rails fairly consistently and can drag an entire train off the tracks. For this reason, most trains haul goods not passengers, and engineers are generally people with no family and few other options.
Riders are often injured while getting on or off the trains. Jumping onto a moving car can easily result in being dragged under the wheels, to lose a hand, foot, or even their life. Others fall out doors at high speeds or tumble off the roofs. Falling in the gaps between cars is often deadly. Some riders hiding in packed cattle cars are trampled to death, and grain carriers can suffocate someone who climbs in a roof hatch to avoid being found.
Because the trains are so dangerous to operate, those who work on them are dangerous as well, and they often see riders as even more of a hazard in an already unsafe job. They drive riders off either to decrease the load or because of a genuine fear for their safety. Many of the trains are owned by manufacturing companies that have begun after the war and are guarded by private security, since the trains often transport valuable goods. Some riders do steal valuable cargo to sell, but most take only enough to survive, especially on trains that carry food from farms to the towns. These private guards are often brutal, and many riders have died at their hands. Some towns task their own public police force to guarding the trains if the cargo transported is food or something else important to town survival. Riding the trains is illegal in some cities but not in others, so riders can never be certain if they will be welcomed or jailed.
The south towns are a series of extremes. While there are several who, populated mostly by refugees from the east and west coasts with more liberal leanings, have legislated equal treatment and rights for Mixed, many more cling to long-held prejudices and Mixeds are treated anywhere from slaves to simple animals. Mixeds who ride the rails to escape an oppressive town often go no further than the nearest more accepting one. However, some of those who are traveling to promote equality find themselves in the midst of towns that want nothing to do with their ideas and may be jailed or killed. Some riders are simply migrant workers, neither escaping oppression or spreading hope, but simply seeking work or the thrill of an unsettled life. Certain Mixeds are more likely to prefer this migratory life, based on whether the animal they are combined with is a migratory species.
Long term riders are a subculture of their own. They often gather in shantytowns built at the ends of rail lines or where there is enough line damage to stop a train. Many share food and stories, and give advice about towns to frequent or to avoid, or where the best work opportunities are. Some whole families travel, and the children are often the most adept riders and the most daring. While the community is close knit, there is no discounting the dangerous members. Women and children traveling alone are at a high risk of being raped, and murders can occur over even petty cash or a good knife, especially among the poorer migrant workers. Some of the stronger riders will act as guardians for younger or weaker ones, helping them get to a destination safely.
There are several subgroups of rider types. Some are transient workers, who often travel in extended family groups, sometimes with the most responsible member going to look for work first and the others following once that person establishes a foothold. Others are rebels, working alone or in small groups, who travel simply to spread the word to oppressed people that there are places in which the Mixed are treated fairly and that hope is possible. A third set are the daredevils, who often call themselves “renegades” or “adventurers”. These people travel simply for the thrill of it. They take more dangerous risks than the other types, often daring each other to stand on top of moving trains, race trains to get on, or other high-risk activities. They also often start fights with each other in camps, and there are several large gangs of these riders whose members will fight each other to the death if they meet. These groups often have ways of marking each other by sight. Some wear a specific color of clothing, or dye patches of their hair or fur, or have specific home-made tattoos.