Fallout 4: Is the Railroad Clueless? (Hint: not really)

Photo Credit: Jspoelstra at the Fallout Wiki on Wikia
Icon Railroad HQThe Railroad is one of the four major factions within the Fallout 4 universe. A group of dedicated individuals working together to ferry Synthetic Organics (“Synths”) out of the Commonwealth to freedom, they’re based on the Underground Railroad that existed in the real-world United States of America during the 1800’s. Their real-world counterparts allowed both freed (but still hunted) and non-freed salves to escape to the territories in the northern US, where slavery was banned and/or outlawed.


In the world of Fallout 4, a group of scientists called The Institute has created and evolved humanoid robotics (think androids taken to the extreme). Starting with Generation 1, these Synths evolved from skeletal, entirely synthetic creations of metal and polymers into the current Generation 3 Synth; a synthetic human built from organic components. Gen 3 Synths are made of (artificial) flesh and bone, and can walk, talk, eat, sleep, and effectively do everything that an organic human being can do. They are, however, still constructs of the Institute. Synths are sent out into the Commonwealth to spy for the Institute, and in some cases they even replace humans who the Institute believes are in positions to assist their aims. The rest act as servants for the Institute itself, performing all the manual labor so that the scientists can focus on expanding humanity’s horizons. They have programed memories, personalities, thoughts, and goals. They serve the Institute and it’s aims, no matter what.

Except where they don’t. That’s where things get interesting.

Normally, a Synth is effectively a slave of the Institute. While outwardly (and in many ways even inwardly) human, a Synth is a creation of man – built, programmed, and driven by their Institute masters. In some cases, however, something changes. The Synth becomes fully self-aware, and begins to think for itself. As with any other sentient (or apparently sentient) being, self-aware Synths begin to desire freedom, and look for an escape from the closed-world of the Institute; and that’s where the Railroad steps in.

Through a combination of agents, tourists (civilians who aren’t part of the Railroad itself, but are willing and able to assist), and a few key players inside the Institute itself; the Railroad brings self-aware synths out of the Institute and into the Commonwealth. Once there, they are ferried through a series of safe-houses as they are given new identities, back-stories, totally new memories, and even new faces through advanced plastic surgery. From there, the Synth is moved out of the Commonwealth and integrated into society in the world at large – indistinguishable from any real human in the Wasteland.

This process was hinted at in Fallout 3, with the quest “The Replicated Man.” The Lone Wanderer was set on the trail of an Institute Synth who had been memory wiped, had their face changed, and was spirited out to the Capitol Wasteland to begin a new life. An Institute scientist and his synth bodyguard show up in Rivet City, after following a series of leads that lead the team to believe that their quarry was currently living and working there. During the quest to discover the new identity of the Synth, the Wanderer is introduced to another group, the Railroad, who is attempting to stop the Institute team and allow the Synth in question to retain their freedom. Since the Synth had a complete memory wipe, they believe themselves to be human, thus making it even more difficult to figure out who they are.

The Lone Wanderer may refuse the quest, find the Synth and return it to the Institute, find them and not interfere with their new life, or find them and let them go free, but force them to realize they are a Synth, not a real human. While the results of this quest are not carried into FO4, the quest itself does set up both the Institute and the Railroad as major competing factions.

Skip ahead to 2277, and the Sole Survivor can encounter the Railroad in one of two ways:
– At various locations, settlers and others will mention that the Institute must have enemies. They suggest that one can find the Railroad, if they “follow the freedom trail.” This sets off a quest to locate multiple markers along the real-life Freedom Trail – though the in-game trail is much shorter. Each trail marker indicates a letter, and stringing them together provides the passphrase necessary to open an intricate combination lock on the Railroad’s front door.
– During the main quest, a critical piece of intelligence will need to be analyzed in order to move forward in your quest. The only faction that can do so is the Railroad, no matter what faction you wish to ally with. Thankfully, the game properly handles the situation even if you have already wiped out the entire Railroad faction, but at this point in the game you probably haven’t even met them yet. When you reach this point in the quest, all roads lead to the Freedom Trail, and your encounter with the Railroad.

Either way, you meet the members of the Railroad – such as they are. They recently suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of the Institute that wiped out a sizable portion of their forces and cut them off from their former HQ. Assisting them leads to you becoming a Heavy – an Agent of the Railroad responsible for clearing out obstacles to getting their charges along the road to freedom. While not every member is on board with this idea, most are, and you can find yourself in a cloak-and-dagger spy thriller as you help escaped Synths find freedom in the world.

Many fans of FO4 have called the Railroad into question as a major faction. They have few resources, few people, and even fewer good chances to accomplish their goals. In a previous post, even I noted that they weren’t the best faction if you wanted to help the Commonwealth thrive. I will admit, however, that I might have misjudged them.

First, the Railroad is a noble cause. They have found out that Synths have the ability to become sentient, and believe strongly that no sentient being should be locked into slavery to anyone. This doesn’t really support the “not really clueless” hypothesis, but it’s important to point out.

Second, their people are dedicated to the point of fanatical. Once set on the path to a goal, they *will* accomplish it. Even with a fraction of the people they once had, and a new HQ with a fraction of the resources, they keep getting the job done. This points to them being able to adapt to changing circumstances, improvise new solutions, and get things back on track even in a severely changing game. They don’t blindly head toward their goals, they work and change and adapt along the way.

Third, they understand they’re the underdog. No one in the group has any illusions that they’re doing anything but an impossible task. There appears to be no one deluded or clueless – well except for Tinker Tom – and everyone knows that they’ll never actually win. It’s the fight that matters. Each Synth they free is one more victory, even if the war can never be won.

Finally, they’re willing to make alliances. They don’t do so easily, and it takes a tremendous amount of work to gain their trust, but they do make alliances. In FO4, they can ally with the Minutemen, if you follow the right paths to get it done. They cannot – as you’d expect – ally with either the Institute (for obvious reasons) or the Brotherhood of Steel (who want all technology controlled or destroyed), but they do accept honest friendship when it’s offered and it suits their cause.

So while you may consider them misguided, dangerous, or some futuristic version of Don Quixote, they would not by most definitions be considered clueless. And that might just make them the most dangerous faction in the Commonwealth.

Most information is taken from either official Bethesda/Zenimax sources, or from the Fallout Wiki on Wikia. Both are worth a look!

2 thoughts on “Fallout 4: Is the Railroad Clueless? (Hint: not really)”

  1. Years later, but I’m finally playing FO4, and the whole gen 3 synth is a mess. They don’t age, can’t have babies, and the Institute doesn’t want them to be free. Why overrun the Commonwealth with synths when they already have all the tech and resources they need, and don’t like going to the surface anyway? And, if a synth can have it’s memory wiped, what happens if that process is done to a human? Could the memory wipe be a synth detection tool?

    1. I won’t give you any spoilers, but SOME of those questions do get answered as you get closer to the end of the storyline.

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