The Crash: Transportation

After the crash, the basis of our current transportation system will remain intact. Roads will be broken up eventually, but it will take a few years. Railways will remain for even longer, but the locomotives will be useless for anything but scrap almost immediately.

The early use of the paved roads is obvious. If a party does not have to climb over and through the brush, it will be able to move considerably faster. Although it is quite likely many of the major road ways will be setup for ambush.

Interestingly enough, railways might proven to be much more useful. A small team of men with a pulley system should have little trouble moving the now useless trains off the tracks. They can be salvaged for parts. The rails themselves could be used for a long time. Small carts being propelled by horse or man power could be used to move much heavier loads over longer distances than a wagon powered by the same force. It might even be possible to use steam engines. Eventually, without maintenance, rust and decay will render the rails unusable. But, until then, survivors can make use of the rail system.

Perhaps the roads which will be the most useful over the long term will be the water ways. People in areas with lots of deep and wide rivers will find them very useful for transporting people and goods. Small river boats will be well within the abilities of any reasonably resourceful person. Although, unless they already have a working knowledge of boats they will suffer from the usual losses to trial and error.

For people with sea access larger boats might become very appealing. However, building, maintaining, and using boats of such a size are very advanced skills and difficult to master. Having said this, there is ample direct and circumstantial evidence indicating pre-historic peoples possessed very effective sea-faring boats. There is even a lot of evidence pointing towards them crossing huge distances over the ocean. Even if such epic voyages are not appealing to groups of people on the ocean, a sensible position to be sure, sailing out for the purpose of fishing might be very appealing. And with fishing boats comes the ability to build and use coastal ships for trade with neighbors up and down the shore line.

Some peoples might find advantage with using horses or wagons. Either would allow a person to move considerably further with more belongings than they could alone. There is some debate as to whether or not pastoralists must necessarily rely on agriculturalists, but having and using horses does not necessarily equate to pastoralism. Some concerns of note with the use of wagons are obvious and some are not. One of them is, naturally, can you build and maintain a wagon and it’s team? One of the ones most overlooked, however, is how useful will a wheel be on the terrain in question. Some people look down on the Ancient Egyptians and Maya for not inventing the wheel, without realizing in many climates the wheel is worthless. The Egyptians lived with deep sand and the Maya lived in dense tropical rain-forest. If you are living in the mountains or with dense ground cover after the crash, you may find the wheel is no longer an effective tool.

Ultimately the most effective and most commonly used means of transportation will be walking. Walking is easy, does not require a person to build or maintain special equipment, and is low upkeep. To prepare ourselves we should begin making a habit of walking now. The suburbanites who think half a mile is too far to walk will probably die during the crash having not left their sub-division.

-Benjamin Shender



  1. Glenn said,

    July 31, 2006 at 11:27 am

    I understand what your trying to do, brainstorming possibilities and trying to get other to do likewise, it inspires hope. I’m not against hope, but I am more strongly in favor of being realistic.

    Roads. They will last much longer then you suggest. Back roads like the one I live on made of tar and gravel will fall apart, but without constant traffic and being plowed in the winter the highways, often times as much as eighteen inches of steel reinforced concrete with asphalt over top, will be around for hundreds of years. Granted the asphalt will start to fall apart quickly and make the surface very pocked and difficult to use. Also, as far as ambushes go, the highway system would be much harder to ambush then a railroad. Even when the trees and bushes grow right to the edge of the pavment the road itself is still wide and it will be less possible to “leap out at people” and rob, kill, subdue or worse them as they did in times of old. That is not to say that ambush is not possible on a roadway, in fact its very likely, but doing it on a railroad track would be very much easier.

    Fact is that there is nowhere that currently is thought of as a road or trail that will not be subject to ambush, blockage, and violence. Take the Appalachian Trail. Your considerably safer traveling by car then on that trail. The police patrol it now but even so there are still theft, rape and murder on that trail every year. When you factor in how many people travel the trail verses how many use other roads from Georgia to Maine there is probably much more violence on the trail. Reason, far from help, no one to hear you screem, no witnesses, brush is close to trail making for easy hiding, lots of places to hide evidence, etc,…. I feel it safe to say that most people will take to the roads post collapse, because that is what they are familar with, and therefore most attempts at violence and victization will be on the roads, fewer will take to the railways and there will be fewer attempts at violence, but they will be more effective, fewer still will take to backwoods trails and the violence will be far less but very very effective.

    As you mention, waterways will probably be the safest and longest lasting roads post collapse. However, two big problem jump to mind, dams and locks. I don’t think there are to many rivers that don’t have one or the other of these and likewise many streams and canals. Obviously, one can portage around such, but if were talking a flat boat and not a kayak or canoe then forget it. Now your back on land with all the attendent problems. Another big “come to think of it” many railroad tracks run between big to moderate sized cities and a large number of big cities are built on rivers and large streams so if your hope is to get out of “Dodge” and avoid the cities then neither of these “roads” really help you.

    Speacial mention is due Railroads, I am thinking you haven’t spent much time walking them. First, railroad cuts grow up fast. Without constant maintainance they dissapear reasonably quickly. Currently, the Rail companies have special maintainance trains that grind and grade track, as well as vehicals that are sent out to cut down branches and trees that grow or fall into the right-of-way all the time, in the past they have supressed the growth of bushes and “weeds” by the heavy uses of herbasides, in the north tracks are constantly subject to frost heaves and need to be repaired frequently. The rocky fill and uneven plane of a railroad would be murder on a horse, any horse forced to walk those roads would be lame in no time. More importantly is the subject of bridges. I encourage you to walk across a few railroad bridges. Some of the old one and the small ones have a solid platform, but one thing you might notice about the big ones over water and such, there’s no ground… just two rails and infrequently a catwalk if your lucky. Another problem is switches. Some are manual, many are not.

    All of this begs a bigger question though, just how much technology will one person need “post-collapse”. To my way of thinking technology is a function of society but society is also a function of technology. In other words, we will be “able” to still have electricity (probably not lights though) after collapse, but without a civilization and its attended orginizational requierments and luxuries will it really serve any purpose. Case in point, we could learn to build and maintain horse drawn carts, but can we maintain the roads they need to use, or the road that already exist but will need repair and maintanance? Will we have the people to do this, the abundent food to feed them when they are building and clearing instead of getting\growing food? Will we have multiple populations that we need to travel to and from, and so on?

    I think it is worthwhile to ponder what technology we can have “post collapse” but perhaps more important one really need to ponder what we actually can make use of and what will add to our lives and survival and what is only a vanity or security blanket from a past we don’t live in anymore.

    We are not going back to the past, but foward into a world that never existed before. We will have little say in defining that world, but complete say in our responce to the new conditions we find ourselves in. Obviously, much from the past can help us in the future, but just because we can bring the past foward doesn’t mean its always a good idea.


  2. Aftermath said,

    August 1, 2006 at 11:42 am

    My thought is to think of what might be possible. What each individual society uses is up to the individual society. Electricity might be useful to some societies for some things. Although I find it difficult to imagine what a very nomadic hunter-gatherer society would use it for, a fairly stationary permaculturalist society might find themselves using electricity for a number of things.

    The process of freezing and thawing water will make most highways unpassable very quickly even if no one uses them. And any crack in the road will have plant life almost immediately, especially without cars running them over all the time. You will certainly be able to see a road was there for many years, probably generations, except for the portions used for the construction of other things. But such a road would be harder to walk on than forest. If the people traveling do not know the way then it might be worth the sacrifice of ease of travel. But for people familiar with the area the advantage will end quickly. I would venture a guess of an average of a decade. Less for rural roads, unless they are still being used, perhaps much more for the interstate.

    I think you underestimate the possibilities of an ambush. First, remember you do not ambush a party larger than yourself. Unless you have an advantage, a reputation, or are so fast and frightening no one has time to count. Also, an ambush is about surprise, not necessarily proximity. Ten bandits on horse could ambush five men on foot from across the street easily enough. Especially if they divide themselves half to each side. A small group flanked in such a way should be very effectively demoralized. In the mountains it is easy enough to fake a avalanche to narrow the road, although easier to see through. In the city it will be child’s play. With burnt and collapsed buildings everywhere anyway? And city roads tend be much more narrow to begin with. Ambushes will likely become a way of life for many people.

    For someone to even consider setting up an ambush on a railroad track they would have to know people use it regularly. It is like the old story about the old man fishing off the pier. The young man came to him and said “why are you fishing here? The fish are over by the marsh today.” The old man replied, “but it is so much more comfortable to fish here.” The railroad might make for easier ambush, but only if they are very regularly used will they actually be used for ambush.

    Damns and locks are not permanent structures, even without help they would collapse eventually. They require very regular maintenance to keep in good working order. And if the group needs to get through the water way there, then I have absolute confidence in the abilities of a small dedicated group of men to cause destruction. Rivers do come to cities eventually. My thought would be to get off the road before then. If there are two small post-collapse villages on the same river, with no city between them, then they can be quite useful. If the city between them is already dead, they could still be used. But, since most large cities are built on large rivers near the sea, using a river to escape cities will be silly. Going down stream will lead you to ocean or another city, and moving upstream without an engine is a royal pain in the butt. You can walk through dense forest faster than you can row upstream unless the current is stopped dead. This I know from personal experience.

    Railroads become unpassable quickly. But we are not talking about locomotives, but small carts, and over relatively short distances. This is about salvage, ultimately using the rails for their iron will probably be more useful than using them to move carts, but for a while they can be used in such a way. Not forever, and probably not very long, as you pointed out. Although the amount of time is going to vary depending on the region itself. I would not recommend using them for travel across country, but moving heavy items a couple of miles should be possible for some years to come.

    I accept what you say about horses drawing carts. My statement was based on the knowledge they were once used in such a fashion. Were they shod in a special way? Kept to the side of the track? A special kind of horse? Or did the owners simply not care?

    -Benjamin Shender

  3. Glenn said,

    August 2, 2006 at 10:35 am

    I don’t underestimate the possibilites of ambush at all, in fact I figure I will be using them frequently. Even under the best efforts to stay hidden there is always a chance that people might find you or at least fumble through your area. If its a large, well orginized, and\or well armed group then it might be better to just run for it, but as you point out if the group is small or you have some advantage over them then subduing them by ambush might be more reasonable. Hey, maybe you even find out that they want to join your group and could help in some real way. Even though I deplore the idea of ambush for profit, I still realize that it is often the best way to defend yourself and home, so believe me I think about ambush quite a bit both avoiding them and operating them.

    I never said that the roads would not be the sight of ambush, I just said that they would not be as effective as where there was close brush and cover. I drove truck for awhile and am very aware of the fact that even semi’s on interstates get ambushed and hyjacked currently, even with all the traffic and police pressence. If that can happen today, how much more when there is no one else out there and no authority.

    Railroads are natural pathways for several groups of people, including snowmobilers, ATV enthusiests, hunters, current railway employees, homeless and criminals. These people already use the railways and are familar with them. If the roads are difficult to pass then these groups are likely to use the railways instead. All it takes for an ambush to happen on a railway, or a road for that matter is from someone to hear you comming, get into hiding and wait. Then if your an easy target, you’ve got your ambush. Again, it already happens currently, so why would it be different later?

    Locomotives or carts, its still that same thing. If the rails are not even, flat, and unobstructed then you run extream risk of upseting your vehicel. Also, baring a mass migration of people out of an area (something I think is in fact very likely, but for a momment let’s say it isn’t) by the time its safe to salvage the railroads will already be comprimised. I figure that collapse will follow a pattern and only the duration of each stage changes between a fast or slow model. First, most everyone that is currently alive will be alive but disoriented and confused. The powers that be will still be, but logisticaly limited in their ability to do much, so they will focus their force and efforts where there feel they need them ( the main roads, railroads, waterways, and sky will all be targets for control, therefore travel will have to be only on back roads which might still be controled by local forces, trails, and cross country). Salvage and scavenging (looting) will be possible at this time, but very dangerous and limited to what you can eaily pick up and carry with you. It’s actually probably better to avoid savage and scavenging at this time.

    Second, people start to die off and eventually we lose half the population. If the collapse is slow this could take years and the powers that be will still be in power. If things go fast it will still last for one month to one year, depending. People will be desperate and violence will be a way of life. Your two great risks are being found and looking like you might have something worth taking. Salvage and scavenge will still have to be limited to small easy to carry things, or to “dead areas” where there is likely no one to find you, but even there you would have to be very careful. Personally, I still feel it is better to do without and stay alive then risk being caught, so while your idea of using the railways to salvage at this time would be viable, I personally would not take the risk.

    Third, we are down to half the people and they are doing crazy foolish stuff, most likely fighting over control of something that isn’t even there anymore (the United States of America of instance). During this period we lose anouther thirty to forty percent of the people. Same thing as stage two, but even more care must be taken to not get caught as people will be even more desparate, violent, but also now vigulent and opertunistic.

    Fourth stage, down to the last twenty to ten percent of the population things fall into a stage of temporary stability. These people know how to find water, food and shelter, and we will have to wait for disease, natural disaster, war, or lack resources to kill them off. If none of these things is forth comming then this stage will go on for years, probably a decade or more. Again, if you can be really sure that salvage attempts will not cause you to met these people then go ahead, but these will be violent desperate people (in some areas canabals) and I would not want to met them. Sorry, I’m staying in the woods till they are all gone.

    In all, I believe, we are talking about at least a decade of danger and possibly a hundred years or more. During that time, hiding and doing for yourself are the best courses, in my opinion. I know that this limits options, but what is the point of running away, only to keep sneeking back and risking violence and death. Better to let them have it and let our children or childrens children worry about savage once its safe (obvious exception is in places like old mines and such where no one is even now, or in places that are empty, dead, and that you can watch and control so you know its safe to go in and salvage).

    As to what they used when horses pulled trains, I don’t know. If I was to guess I would say packed soil between wooden sleepers as opposed to corse loose stone and sleepers being anywhere from flush to totally exposed and easy to trip on. Even though most people still treat horses in a callus and horrible fashion, they have never been cheep and only great fools treat them with total disreguard.


  4. Aftermath said,

    August 8, 2006 at 10:51 am

    I would agree with your stages in general, but there are a few modifications I would tend to make. Once the sanitation systems break down epidemics will be rampant. A good portion of the population will probably die just from illness. Which will probably shorten stages 2 and 3. Also, cannibals won’t be around for very long. Eating your own species is suicide in most cases. It makes you sick and leads to many psychological problems. Not to mention sensible people still around will tend to kill any nest of cannibals they find. Too dangerous to let live. Indigenous peoples who practiced cannibalism ate people only rarely and almost never very much. Post-crash cannibals tend to try making human a staple, which does not work very well.

    I agree with you the big question is speed. It depends on what hits us first really. Rising prices due to various shortages will take quite a while to end it. A crop failure will see us through the first two stages inside a year. I guess we just keep watching the news and get prepared as fast as we can.

    When I think salvage I tend to imagine it in out of the way places. As far from where people are as possible. New ghost towns on the edge of nowhere and the like. Although you have to be careful with that as well, some small towns might manage to last a good long while. But, if they aren’t crazy, you can probably convince them to trade. I have no intention of going into a major city until at least fifty years after the crash. At which point I would probably have no reason to go into a major city.

    In the end, I’m predicting a long period of danger. But not just danger. I fully expect heros to emerge as often as villains. I guess the trick is finding the good guys.

    Back to ambushes and roads:

    As a military tactic I cannot fault the ambush. Although I’m not expecting to be terribly fond of highwaymen.

    I think rails will be less well-travelled in the long run because there will be fewer people. Although you are probably right that in the short term they will be fairly well travelled.

    The best road to use would probably be one mapped out only in your own mind. Know the area well enough and the only landmark you need is keep the mountain to your right. No obvious trails, stay quiet, and you are safer. I don’t think I would want to live like such a refugee for too terribly long, but if the alternative is even less appealing….


  5. Glenn said,

    August 9, 2006 at 10:22 am

    True, cannabalism is not a long lived option, but the people who would resort to such will not be thinking about a long, healthy life but rather living for the next day or so. Most of us have a deep moral adversion to the very idea, but pain, hunger and despairation driving someone into a feral state pretty much over rides moral adversion. As I run a mental model of what would I do, and more importantly, what would the average person with no preparation and with only the common run of knowlege and experience do I see two major patterns developing. Based on the premise that people are lazy (which can be something of a boon in a survival situation as you tend to burn less energy in the persuit of energy) and the ones who survive will have to be oppertunistic then I suppose that the first targets for table fare will be pets and farm animals. They are plentiful and they don’t tend to run away, or at least will not at first. If the people are hungry and desparate and have little or no experience in farming then keeping the animals, breeding them and such will not be on anyones mind.

    Eventually, the animals will be wiped out or will become so cautious that they will not differ much from wild animals. In the areas where this becomes the case (mostly larger cities above 30,000 in current population as a guess) the people not smart enough to leave or to follow the wild herds will be force to food of opportunity and that is going to be dead bodies. Cannablism would in most cases start in this way, that is, eating the already dead out of absolute desparation. However, it is likely that in many areas this act of desparation will turn to murder and active hunting at some point. As to how long this stage will last, it only has to last long enough for them to stick a knife in your back to be troublesome.

    As to travel… I have heard it said by the survivalist types that everyone should have at least three separate escape routes from their local area, region, and country planed out at all times and you should constantly cultivate other options (learning to sail, fly, drive a truck, a motorcycle, ride a horse, jump a train, etc….).

    Personally, I know where I will be going in the event of collapse, and I have figured seven different routes and methods of getting there each based on a different possible set of events. I would highly suggest that you get a map and walk through each leg of your journey in your mind. Look at all potential obsticels like lakes, rivers, interstate highways, large cities, military bases, and mountain ranges and figure out how you would deal with each. If you get a chance get closer, more detailed maps of each area and do the same, and then try walking, driving, traveling parts of the trip ahead of time if possible. Remember the existance of culverts they could save your life (not only as ways to cross road unseen, and as shelter, but they are used by animals in the same way and can act as ready made traps it you need food).

    Going to the event at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum this weekend?

    Check the MAPS sight for details.


  6. Aftermath said,

    August 11, 2006 at 12:39 am

    We will actually be busy this weekend, so we will not be going to this one. But give our regards to everyone. We are currently planning on taking a lot of classes in the area this fall, so hopefully we will get to see people again then.

    You are right about the escape routes. The problem in some areas is multiple routes of escape become very tricky. This is especially noticeable if you happen to live on a peninsula. Then you have two choices: through whatever is on the peninsula or you swim.

    As for the now domesticated animals, I would tend to think dogs in general will re-wild fairly well. But specific dogs I know of will likely die before they figure out how to get food. Pigs have been observed to re-wild astonishingly quick. And, personally, I am looking forward to seeing what will happen to cows when docility is no longer an advantage. The return of the aurochs could be an interesting addition to any ecosystem.

    I am worried about avoiding cannibals. The general technique I have decided on is taken from the cardinal rule of defense. A blow does no damage if it misses. I plan being nowhere near the cannibals if I can help it.


  7. ChandraShakti said,

    September 3, 2006 at 11:15 pm

    IMO as someone who had lived near railroad tracks almost all my life, the railroads will be more useful without the rails anyway. They provide flat level stretches that cover long distances. The points about maintenance and bridges are very valid.
    When horses were used to pull carts on rails, they didn’t use modern rail systems. If you chose to try that concept on a modern system, I’d suggest a two harness rig with one horse (or team) on either side walking in the dirt to pull the cart. Either that or teach those horses to step only on the ties…
    I’m personally not fond of the idea of doing much travel or trade during the actual time of chaos. I intend to hole up in the area I am actually currently in the process of moving to and living as a forager with nothing worth taking. At least until things settle out.
    As for salvage, there are lots of isolated homes in rural areas all over that seems like the best places to seek salvage from. I already salvage from abandoned farmsteads and will stick with that model. Let the brave young men with more testosterone than brains salvage from the towns and cities after the time of chaos is over.

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