2011-08-31

Trainstar: Review of Unstoppable

Trainstar, says that Unstoppable is "great train porn." While I may not agree with her wording, it's a great way to sum it up. Check out her review. With two of my own favorite actors, Denzel Washington and Chris Pine (Sgt. Getraer's son, Captain Kirk) in the lead, I realize it's about time that I check it out.

Initially, I wasn't all that interested in watching the film. After all, I had read about it in Railroad & Railfan and Trains magazines well before it was a high-energy blockbuster film. Were there safety measures in place? Yes. Were they foolproof? Obviously not, but all had turned out as good as possible, which was very gratifying considering what could have happened.

According to the August 2001 Trains, the culpable fellow--35 years free of safety violations to his credit at the time--was switching cars in Toledo's Stanley Yard in the cab on his own (a typical practice), when he saw that a switch was set the wrong way. He got up to get out of the cab and inadvertantly moved the throttle all the way up, a position called Run 8 for the 8th and final notch in the throttle, instead of setting the dynamic brake, a similar lever, but moves in the opposite direction. With a sufficient lag time of locomotive response, a preoccupied mind, and a fast move from the cab, it's conceivable that he could be off the locomotive before he knew what happened, as the guy claimed.

Normally, this wouldn't be cause for major concern because, as required by law, the engine had an alerter. An alerter is a timer that goes off if the engineer makes no input or changes to the controls in the cab. It emits a loud, two-tone signal for 20 seconds before it automatically and applies the brakesfully on both the locomotive and the cars in the train, called a penalty brake application. It prevents the train from running away if an engineer loses consciousness or is otherwise incapacitated. Unfortunately, the engineer had set the locomotive's brakes as well. If the locomotive's brakes are set, the alerter is disengaged and unable to stop the train automatically. Clearly, that's not foolproof.

All it took was a clear track and that locomotive was off on a 2 hour, 70 mile jaunt through central Ohio, inspiring more than a little fear, a movie, and some serious heroism.

I wonder if the congressionally mandated Positive Train Control would prevent a future incident. From what I do know, it probably would.

Yet, the real life events weren't enough for a movie mogul's idea of excitement, so the movie is inspired by actual events, not an actual portrayal of events. I'm going to watch Hollywood's sexing-up (sorry) of CSX 8888's trip, while I would encourage everyone to check out the real story, which--I feel--stands on its own merit.

Actual Events 
     (and related speculation)

Wikipedia
CNN (aka Unfair And Imbalanced)

CSX 8888 Play-by-play
 - CSX report
Ohio Valley Railroads

How dangerous phenol can be to humans
Photos of CSX
News Footage


"Inspired By Actual Events"
     and baseless drama and/or gratuitous violence

Unstoppable trailer (HD)