• Runaway Train movie based on Rochester incident?

  • Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in New York State.
Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in New York State.

Moderator: Otto Vondrak

  by nessman
I was reading the booklet that came with with the copy of 1985 Jon Voight movie Runaway Train I have on DVD.

Along with some facts and interesting tidbits about the movie, it says:

"First of his countrymen to make a film outside of Japan, writer/director Akira Kurosawa based the original Runaway Train script on a similar incident that happened in Rochester, NY."

It didn't elaborate any further.

Does anyone know what incident is being referred to?


  by BR&P
The only thing I can think of was in late 1950's or early 1960's, some NYC units ran away from Dewitt at speeds variously reported as high as 105 MPH (on units geared for 65, ??!?) and finally were halted near Rochester. There was a thread on this on one of the previous RR.Net incarnations - anybody save it?
  by jr
I believe that this one was unusual, in that there was someone aboard the runaway. If my memory still works, it was a multiple unit consist, and a laborer was in a trailing unit. After the engines were under load for a while, he decided to take a look around. At first he was unable to do anything to stop it. After a while, he decided to pull down the jumpers between units. He did this for a couple of the engines, and this killed power to these (trailing) units. This slowed the consist enough that a "chase" engine was able to couple on, and stop the runaway.

Memory is a little foggy on this, but I believe that that is a close approximation to what happened.

BTW, Rochester had a mild runaway in the steam days. In about 1943, the Wolverine took a curve too fast in the city. The engine turned over the side of a bridge into a city street (bridge was on a curve). Engineer was killed in the resulting wreck. The engine was later at the Rochester engine house, and the throttle mysteriously opened, and the engine crept out onto the main. I believe that this one was stopped & retrieved without the excitement of the later diesel runaway.

Locals said that the engine was haunted by the ghost of the engineer, trying to complete his run.


  by roadster
You are close, but according to the "LIFE" article on the incident, the electrician finally saw the engine stop button in the trailling unit and pushed it. This only kills that unit and he preformed the same task untill all the units
were dead and it coasted to a stop, somewhere near Brighton. When he got off the units started to roll backwards (east) and he placed ballast stones on the tracks which finally stpped the consist. The engine consist that chased this set started in Newark, NY MP 342, but were unable to catch the runaway set. I gotta go dig that article out again.

  by videobruce
I believe it was late NYC (mid to late sixties).
What I was told they were switching ij DeWitt, the engineer was hanging out the window tring to see hand signals and fell out (hey, that was what the guys told me at the time, what can I say). There was a brakeman on board and he didn't know what to do. I can't believe it was a fireman, hostler or 'flying squad' since they would know enough to shut off the throttle. This guy might of been on another unit other than the controlling unit.
The air was applied (ATS maybe?) but couldn't stop the units since the throttle was in the 8th notch. I believe when the brake shoes burned off the speed increased, but I don't know about over 100mph.
They were going to derail the engines by running them into a C/S untill they found out someone was onboard.
Another engine(s) were sent out to catch up but couldn't. The brakeman pulled the jumper cables and the power stopped by itself. Nothing was said about the other power catching up, tieing on and stopping the runaway power.

  by roadster
I found it, Incident occured in fall of 1962, story was printed in LIFE Magazine in 1963. The unwilling passanger was a sheetmetal worker doing an inspection of the sandboxes at dewitt while the engines were being hostled in prep. for a trip. He was not familiar with diesel operation. Story didn't eladorate what happened to the hostler except that he was found dazed laying along the tracks. States highest speed was about 89mph. After trying serveral button and switches in the 2nd unit, he found the "eng. run" switch which killed #2's engine, he then pulled the jumper cables from between 1 & 2 which took 3 and 4 off line and finally isolated, hit the eng. run switch, and pushed a big red button ( Engine stop button, fuel cutoff) on the lead engine. States it ended about 3 1/2 miles east of a 45 mph restricted curve, I believe that to be the curve between CP 369 and MP 371 Amtrak station, before the Genesee River. Putting them I believe in Brighton near MP 366. Otto, I bring the story with me Sunday to the RIT show. (If I'm not working)

  by nessman
This is great info. Thanks guys. Who would have thought that a relatively obscure incident here in Rochester would be the basis for an excellent movie (4 stars by Ebert, Oscar nominations, etc.).
  by Mike Roque
Hey Roadster,

Come find me at the show also...I'll probably be downstairs dispatching. I'd like to see this article also...especially if there were photos.

  by O-6-O
Do the front doors on F-units really stick or is Eric Roberts just a wimp? :wink:

  by videobruce
The brand new SD70's have had problems with the inner doors!
On one unit, someone took their frustration out on the door and now it doesn't even close!

Exterior doors especially on a 'cab' unit were hard to open when they were in good shape. You are below the door when entering the unit climbing up the ladder and couldn't 'lean' into them.