Underground Railroad

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Maybe you've been Blessed with Suck. Or maybe you were simply Made a Slave or found yourself Trapped Behind Enemy Lines. You Can Run but You Can't Hide. Unless these folks help you. A Sub-Trope of La Résistance, the Underground Railroad is the group of people who work in secret to help you escape to freedom. Usually it is not actually underground, or even necessarily a railroad, though there is no particular reason it couldn't be.

For modern American Superhero stories, the famous slave escape network is the perfect way to show the heroes comes from an honored history of heroism as they learn they have ancestors who risked everything joining the organization, and also left secret passages and hideouts to use now.

Examples of Underground Railroad include:

Comic Books


  • The Philadelphia Experiment II. The American Underground has a route to help Americans (who are basically slaves of the Nazis) escape to safety in Alaska, which is apparently not under the Nazis' control.
  • In 101 Dalmatians, the networks of dogs and other animals who help the dalmatians escape Cruella.


  • The original Underground Railroad led from the United States and slavery to Canada (or other British and foreign territories) and freedom. In much of its heyday, which started with the British Empire's abolition of slavery in 1843 and largely ended with the US Civil War in 1861, freedom seekers who'd reached abolitionist Northern states were still not safe as they risked abduction and recapture by slave catchers. Only a few brave souls like Harriet Tubman risked going behind the lines to transport slaves from southern border states; the bulk of the infrastructure served the onward travel of those already in free states but still at risk of recapture. Books and newspapers were the most effective (or, at least, most lasting) media for abolitionists to advance their beliefs and preserve the history after the Moses-like exodus to the promised land in the north waned.
  • In The Handmaid's Tale, there was an underground railroad for getting people (mostly women, IIRC) from Gilead to Canada.
  • Number the Stars is a work of historical fiction set during World War II, about the Real Life efforts by Danes in Nazi occupied Denmark to smuggle Jews into neutral Sweden.
  • In Jo Walton's Small Change trilogy, several groups focus on getting Jews and other undesirables out of fascist Europe. When Carmichael is blackmailed into becoming the head of The Watch, a British gestapo, he and a few trustworthy allies found the Inner Watch and use their resources and feared reputation to secretly get innocents to safety.
  • One is developed in the Star Wars: New Jedi Order series to help Jedi evade the various invaders, sympathizers, and bounty hunters who want to capture them. The "Great River" is later converted into a branch of the Insiders and later the Ryn Network, which both have a more active intelligence role.

Live Action TV

  • Babylon 5: There is a so-called Telepath Underground Railroad, which helps telepaths escape from the Psi-Corps. From time to time, the Psi-Cops, elite Psi-Corps agents who are also powerful telepaths, will attempt to break the Railroad in order to capture the rogue telepaths.
    • Later on, other operations develop to help Narn civilians escape captivity after their star nation falls under a brutal occupation by The Centauri Republic. One of the notables in this movement is Vir Cotto, using his credentials as Londo's aide and later Ambassador to Minbar under the name "Abrahamo Lincolni".
    • And the Telepath Underground Railroad is used again later on as a recruiting network for telepaths to help the Army of Light fight the Shadows.
  • In Firefly and Serenity, Simon was helped in his rescue of his sister from a government lab by some unspecified co-conspirators who apparently are these.
  • In Hogan's Heroes, the title characters and the French Resistance helped escaping Allied P.O.W.s reach England.
  • Murder, She Wrote: Investigating a murder attributed to the slave of a distant relative, Mrs. Fletcher found that the victim was a "Station Master" on the Underground Railroad, and was murdered by his father-in-law.
  • Quantum Leap: In "The Leap Between the States" Sam leaps into his own great-grandfather, a Union officer in the American Civil War, and comes across a southern belle and her seemingly devoted slave who are secretly helping other slaves escape north.

Tabletop RPG

  • Shadowrun supplement Aztlan. The Aztlan Freedom League helps refugees from Aztlan escape to the Confederated American States.
  • Fantasy Games Unlimited's Psi World adventure Underground Railroad. The Free State operates, with the aid of a psionic underground in the Confederacy, a series of escape routes for psis who wish to get out of the repressive police state of the Confederacy.
  • Forgotten Realms has a few, especially in Calimshan. And (less often) Mulhorand.

Video Games

  • Half-Life 2: Black Mesa East ran a network of safehouses and supply caches to help people escape City 17, with the help of resistance agents planted in Civil Protection. When the manhunt for Gordon Freeman is set off, much of the network ends up being broken by the Combine, although the resistance group that was running the network manages to survive and fight on.
  • Morrowind has The Twin Lamps, who help free slaves and get them to safety (as well as occasionally killing their masters). Considering that slavery is a thriving business in Morrowind, they are kept very busy.
  • Fallout 3 took the Underground Railroad and ran with it in one of the sidequests, essentially by combining it with the plot of Blade Runner and having the Lone Wanderer either assist in protecting an escaped android, or helping capture him and return him to his creators in Canada.
  • Dragon Age II - In a game built around the Fantastic Racism mages in Kirkwall deal with, the presence of a "Mage Underground" should come as no surprise. By act 3, the increasingly-paranoid Meredith has basically dismantled it, which doesn't do much for Anders' mental state.

Real Life

  • The Trope Namer is the Underground Railroad that existed in the United States before the American Civil War, which helped escaped slaves make their way north to safety. Some found refuge in the Northern states that were anti-slavery, but some ended up fleeing all the way to Canada to avoid slave extradition laws that required escaped slaves to be arrested and returned to their owners.
    • Less well-known is that, for over a half-century after some Northern states went anti-slavery (beginning with Vermont in 1777) and before the British Empire outlawed slavery in 1833, the Underground Railroad ran south from Canada to the USA.
  • During World War II, airmen from the Allied Powers who were shot down over Occupied Europe would often find themselves being hidden and protected by members of various resistance groups, who would try to smuggle them back to England or to a neutral country such as Switzerland or Sweden.
    • Counter-intuitively, the easiest path back to England was not across the English Channel, but rather a lengthy and difficult trip through Occupied France, Vichy France, and neutral Spain to the Mediterranean, due to the density of German defenses and patrols along the French coastline.
  • In 2017, hundreds if not thousands of refugee claimants covertly (and eventually overtly) crossed the US-Canada border after Donald Trump repeatedly commented on his intentions to remove various non-citizens from the country. The New Yorker called this "The Underground Railroad for Refugees". For many of these refugees, especially those whose refugee claims had already been denied by the USA, it didn't work; crossing the border illegally was enough for them to be deported from Canada.
  • And then there's the "Rainbow Railroad", bringing homosexuals from countries where they face imprisonment or worse simply for being non-heterosexual to countries with freedom of sexual orientation.