I’ve always been something of a railroad buff. I remember when I was a kid, my father built a model railroad set on a pool table in the basement of our house. It was complete with paper-mâché mountains with a tunnel going through them, and a little town. I was heart-broken when my father got bored with it and threw it out. So I just had to see Unstoppable, which is inspired by a real incident of a runaway train.

Due to a mistake by an engineer, an unmanned freight train, carrying toxic chemicals, is sent rolling out of a train yard. On the same day, Will Colson (Chris Pine), a recently hired railroad worker, shows up for work and is teamed up with a grizzled veteran, Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington). Immediately the two men come into conflict. (Does this sound familiar?) However, when they learn about the runaway train, they work together to attach a locomotive to it to try to stop it.

I mostly enjoyed Unstoppable, the action sequences are well done, although the personal conflicts in it are a little pat and familiar. The film touches upon the issue of corporate greed. When the CEO of the railroad is told about the damage a toxic spill from the train could cause, his first question is what effect this would have on the company’s stocks. We learn that the company has been forcing experienced engineers into early retirement, so it can hire younger engineers for less money. The working class heroes have to struggle against the stupidity of the management to avoid a catastrophe.

As I said before, this film was inspired by a real incident that took place in 2001. Not surprisingly, the real story was not quite as dramatic as the film, though the real-life train did carry toxic chemicals. Interestingly, in the film the engineer whose mistake causes the incident is portrayed as a buffoon. In the real-life incident, the engineer was a 35-year veteran who had a good record. This should remind us that even good people can make very bad mistakes sometimes.

I remember seeing a made-for-TV movie about a runaway train many years ago. Does anyone else remember it?

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