These are the examples that make Casey Jones cry.
Just like works that are Just Plane Wrong
, many writers just don't do the research when it comes to railways, locomotives and rolling stock.
Easily, the number one mistake is showing a steam locomotive without a tender or bunker and tanks—which usually means that it doesn't have any fuel or water and therefore can't move. Other common departures from reality might involve a Runaway Train
's safety systems failing
without any justifiable reason, or the wrong kind of train or rolling stock for the script. But, hey, most viewers don't know
or care what the proper train would look like.
Cases of anachronistic locomotives and rolling stock are more forgiveable, for most of the same reasons given in sister tropes involving ships
or armoured vehicles.
Sometimes there are simply no serviceable examples still in existence, or the surviving examples are stabled at preserved railway lines far from their original area of operation and are too expensive to transport,leaving the production team with a choice between this trope or California Doubling
. Even when you manage to make locomotive and rolling stock match the period and the location, they're often in a livery from an earlier or later period of their service lifespan, and the owners may well be reluctant to have them repainted for filming.
Compare Steam Never Dies
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- This highly amusing advert for British Rail's InterCity services inadvertently illustrated why film crews sometimes just have to put up with anachronistic liveries, as the special Police paintjob that was supposed to wash off easily after filming failed to perform as advertised, and the locomotive had to be sanded down and repainted. As any preservationist will tell you, this process is not cheap for a small not-for-profit organisation depending upon volunteer labour.
- The second volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has a scene in which a Martian tripod destroys Barnes Bridge along with a train crossing it. However, while the train is spot-on for the period, it's a London and North Western Railway design. Barnes Bridge was on the London and South Western Railway, and used very different locomotives.
- A Doctor Who Magazine Seventh Doctor story had a London suburban train stolen by evil aliens who planned to eat the passengers. The artist created very detailed and realistic drawings of the train - unfortunately it was of a very distinctive design which was constructed for the suburban railways in Glasgow and never ran in London.
- Mission: Impossible
- The fight scene in the Channel Tunnel. In real-life, the Tunnel consists of two single-track tunnels (and a service tunnel for electric vehicles)
- The line is also electrified with overhead catenary throughout, which would cause big problems for both a helicopter flying in the tunnel and anyone standing on top of the train.
- The helicopter could not get close to the train in the tunnel without being hit by high-speed winds created by the train moving at high-speed.
- A regular French TGV is used in place of the Eurostar variant, even being identified as such in the Coincidental Broadcast; in actual fact, different loading gauges and voltage supplies — and in the case of the line between Kent and London at the time, third-rail instead of overhead electrification — make it impossible to operate a TGV in the UK. note
- The poster for the film Creep depicts a 1972 Mk1 stock Northern Line train — the stock was withdrawn four years before the film was released.
- All but one - The London Underground keeps a single example on the abandoned Aldwych line, where Creep (and most other works involving the Underground) are filmed. It might well be the same train.
- Enigma features 1950s MK1 British Rail Stock (with Eastern Region numbering) in a scene that takes place near Bletchley in 1943. This is quite common due to the large number of BR Mk1s in preservation (and the large number built; they were a standard carriage used throughout the system, replacing many previous designs, and the last of them weren't taken out of service until 2005), compared to the accurate pre-war types which are in comparison quite rare. The Mk1s are also all steel construction, whereas earlier types were often wooden framed or wooden bodied, which didn't help their survival.
- Runaway Train from 1985 has quite a few errors.
- In The Legend Of Zorro, the driver of the bad guy's train is hit by a piece of wood and falls against the throttle, shoving it forward and causing the train's speed and boiler pressure to dramatically increase. Pushing the throttle forward would actually close it, making the train slow down (and eventually stop) while a rise in speed would cause the boiler pressure to decrease.
- Public Enemies: The producers decided to show a train arriving in Chicago. While Milwaukee Road #261 and its cars in their orange and maroon livery could be reasonably explained, the locomotive is anachronistic to the 1933 setting of the film. ALCO did not build that particular locomotive until 1944.
- In The Swarm the driver falls against the brake, shoving it forward, causing the train to speed up and crash. Pushing the brake forward applies it, and applying the brakes is how you stop the train.
- In Savage Messiah, a film set in Victorian England, the protagonist at one point narrowly avoids being hit by a 1940s American-built locomotive.
- In Titanic, in the scene at Southampton, an American switcher is briefly seen on the dockside. Not quite the glaring error it appears to be, as the Southern Railway company did operate a few S100-class switchers bought as war-surplus from the US Army Transportation Corps, but they weren't even designed until the middle of the 1940s. Someone in the set design team was trying to be too clever for their own good.
- In the Edwardian-set Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, there is a brief shot of a train from the Great Western Railway. Except it's not, it's actually a rather poorly disguised World War II-era 'Austerity tank'.
- The Railway Children is mostly pretty good with this trope - as it's set on a fictional railway, most inaccuracies can be handwaved away. However, the engine that nearly hits Jenny Agutter wasn't built until the 1930s.
- A recent theatrical production of the film apparently involved a British Rail Class 08, which is a 1950s diesel locomotive. What's worse is it was apparently on loan from the National Railway Museum, who really ought to know better! However, the 08 was needed to propel the other locomotive involved, an 1870s Great Northern Railway "Single" locomotive incapable of moving on its own.
- Heroically almost-averted in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. In one scene, set in France in 1910, Terry-Thomas lands on top of a train that train enthusiasts will recognise as being hauled by the Scottish 'Jones Goods.' However, while this is not strictly accurate, very similar locomotives were indeed working in France in 1910. In other words, it was as close as they could reasonably get in the late 1960s.
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe creates a very impressive representation of World War II-era Paddington Station, with the correct engine and rolling stock... and then has the engine painted in 1950s livery.
- Garfield's movie has a scene where Garfield infiltrates a dispatcher's room and switches trains willy nilly sending them all on collision courses with one another. This would be impossible as the system would not allow the controler to switch points in front of an approaching train.
- Source Code
- Trains do not have guns on board, as quoted by Metra's own commuter newsletter On the Bi Level, If conductors wanted to wield guns they would have applied for a different kind of blue uniform..
- The so called "conductor's compartment" is actually an engineer cab for remotely controlling the locomotive when the train is moving in that direction, and is portrayed on the wrong end of the train car (the engineer must be able to see the track ahead). Even more so from the outside view of the cars since it shows the windshields for the cab on the right end of the car, but the side windows of the cab on the wrong end as well. Not to mention this was a Chicago bound train, so the compartment would not have been empty, there would have been an engineer on one side of the compartment, operating the train.
- Not all cars on the train have headlights/taillights/red stripes.
- Gallery cars of the type depicted do not have a bridge over the isle, they have stairs on either side of the isle to reach their respective sides of the mezzanine.
- This is a side effect of shooting the interior scenes in California's Metrolink cars, while the film itself is set in Chicago.
- Unstoppable is a notable aversion. While the film is clearly a dramatization centered around a runaway train; the incident is inspired by Crazy Eights. The creators of the film also went to great lengths to accurately adhere to railway mechanics, physics and procedures. However, the producers do apply lots of Artistic License to the road name, cab number and loco model.
- Super 8 featured a train which was, to all appearances, violating the existing class five freight speed limits...not to mention the fact that the most viable routing for the train (as shown in some of the viral material) was over Conrail tracks in 1979. Why is this a problem? Conrail inherited a broken down physical plant from the railroads which merged into it, meaning that there were slow orders all around. Potentially averted given who was doing the shipping...but given the number of derailments that occurred under the Penn Central in the years leading up to Conrail's formation, an incident of seriously questionable judgment.
- (Of course, it is worth giving credit to the viral team, who cobbled together a spot-on routing for the shipment (and one which would only involve three railroads, about as few as you could hope to run that train on back in 1979, as UP hadn't taken over about five other Class Is).
- It's highly unlikely that a single truck would derail an entire train in the first place.
- Breakfast on Pluto generally makes a lot of effort with its 1970s setting, until the scene at Paddington station when Kitten goes back to Ireland, which has loads of clearly visible modern trains. But the budget probably didn't stretch to anything more authentic.
- Speed: the subway train they're on in the third act has no dead man's brake.
- Dancer in the Dark: This locomotive◊ appears in the film. Great Northern never owned any of this model of locomotive, which was built by Nohab in Sweden for the European market, but the film-makers thought it was the closest they could find to an American-style diesel.
- In Back To The Future Part III, Doc Brown states that the logs he has created for Marty to throw into the stolen locomotive are made mostly out of anthracite coal. While anthracite does burn much more efficiently than wood, it can also be incredibly difficult to ignite, especially when it isn't broken into very small pieces. The engine in the film was also designed to burn wood, which allow too much or too little air draft to ignite the coal even if Marty did have the time to sit there and baby it.
- Not to mention that the boiler would have run dry without the tender in that distance. No water, no steam. No water and the hotter firebox wont do any good. High heat + Empty boiler = KABOOM!
- Doc does mention that the boiler will catastrophically explode if it reaches a certain pressure, and during the last minute of the scene, rivets and seams are visibly failing and spewing vapor or jets of superheated water. Also, the train explicitly does retain the tender in the script (Doc commands the engineer and fireman to "uncouple the cars from the tender").
- In Real Life, the tenders were often physically attached to the engine and could not be removed without significant effort anyway.
- In Real Life, the locomotive used, Sierra No. 3, is physically incapable of reaching even 65 MPH on a good day, much less 88.
- The Polar Express - things like the rolling stock bending around a mountain peak or a 100% decline, the length of the train keeps varying from five to about a dozen coaches etc etc. And let's not start on the scene with the train crossing the frozen body of water and slithering across the ice like a snake.
- The military train in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is quite clearly a Spanish steam engine (note the buffers as it pulls into the station) pulling European-style two-axle cars. By the 1860s, bogie cars were well-established in America.
- In the 2012 blockbuster film The Avengers, at the begining of the Black Widow interrogation scene, we see an establishing shot of a Norfolk Southern freight train with American locomotives passing by the ratty looking warehouse where Natasha is
being interrogated conducting an interrogation. The only problem is that the scene is set in Russia, which is not only several thousand miles away from the nearest Norfolk Southern locomotive, but wouldn't even be the correct track gauge if such a locomotive happened to be imported.
- The producers were aware of problem and digitally removed the NS logo and lettering, but the black on white NS paint scheme is nevertheless unmistakable as well as the North American railroad industrial design.
- The scene was shot in Cleveland (a good stand in for post-collapse Russia) and filming a passing train was a spur of the moment decision.
- Alternately, it could be argued that the interrogation actually is in America, though why the Russian officials would travel to an area where an NS train would be nearby would not be explained by that reasoning.
- The train scene in Torque is nothing short of ridiculous. In a time when even the once-popular F40PH is being phased out, there's a single blank vintage E unit on a train that would require at least two of them. The space between the coaches is wide enough for a motorcycle to jump through; also, the end doors are open, and there are no diaphragms which means that it'd be pretty windy inside the cars. And the center aisle is wide enough to ride a motorcycle through it at not really low speed. It doesn't really matter anymore that the headlights on the locomotive are off.
- A whole lot of things went Just Train Wrong in The Cassandra Crossing.
- While an overnight train from Geneva to Stockholm isn't unthinkable, routing it via Paris is plain idiotic. Not only that, it travels from Geneva to Basel and then to Paris which is an even longer way than taking the direct route to Paris by entering France a few miles after Geneva. The train is zig-zagging its way through Europe. It's absolutely useless both to start in Geneva (because whoever wants to travel from Geneva to Paris would take a direct train) and to continue beyond Paris with a sleeping-car on the train (because it's not like there aren't any trains that can take you from Geneva to Brussels in much less time on a much shorter route). One could think that the American script writers picked some random European cities without informing themselves where exactly in Europe they're located, whether it makes sense to send a train that way, and whether Europe has a much denser network of long-distance railroad lines than the USA.
- Not to mention that it's impossible to let a train have Paris as a mere stopover because the six major stations in Paris are all dead-end, there is no long-distance railroad line through Paris, and trains from Basel arrive in a different station than where trains to Brussels depart. Trains can only start or terminate in Paris, but not stop. Traveling through Paris via train pretty much always involves changing stations via Métro. Unlike American transcontinental trains, a stopover in a dead-end station does not require turning the entire consist from the locomotive(s) to the last car around, European railroads would simply put another locomotive on the other end of the train and continue with that one, but in Paris' case, it'd require another massive detour to get to the right station or on the right line.
- Of five regular compartment cars, two are first class. Standard for express/intercity trains between Munich and Zürich in The Eighties, but a European overnight train would never have that much first class in comparison to the second class.
- Also, putting the sleeping-car between the two first-class coaches makes absolutely no sense. The passengers from the first first-class coach would have to walk through the sleeping-car to get to the train restaurant.
- Over such a long distance, one would expect couchette cars on the train along with at least one sleeping-car. There are none, and instead, there are way too many cars fit mostly for daytime travel.
- In the middle of a train runs a dining-car. This would make it highly difficult to shunt it out of the train, seeing as dining-cars weren't allowed anywhere near the ferry between Germany and Denmark in those days for fear of too much competition for the on-board restaurants. Also, this particular dining-car model isn't too likely to be allowed to operate in Denmark or Sweden.
- When the train leaves "Geneva" (which is actually Basel, the train's next stop), two of the three second-car coaches are missing. The second baggage car at the end of the train is there, though.
- In Switzerland already, the train changes direction countless times. There are many scenes in which the two first-class coaches and the sleeping-car are in the rear half of the train.
- In some scenes, a train runs through the scene which doesn't have a single vehicle in common with the Europa-Express, neither the locomotive not any of the cars. One of them even contains German cars whereas the Europa-Express is an entirely Swiss consist. Since almost all passenger cars were green in West and Central Europe in those days, it was believed that the audience wouldn't notice.
- An infected dog is to be taken out of the train in a basket hung from a helicopter. This is impossible on tracks electrified with overhead catenary like almost every bit of Swiss railroad (and any mainline between Switzerland and Paris). However, when the basket comes near the train (and only then), the catenary is missing, as is the second track. In these scenes, the train is pushed by a Bm 4/4 diesel locomotive which remains unseen while the electric locomotive with its pantographs down remains in plain sight.
- When the train approaches "Nuremberg", it is clearly running under Swiss catenary.
- "Nuremberg"'s station itself is actually a freight station in Italy. Apparently, the American script writers didn't care because it's quite common for American stations to not have passenger platforms rising higher than the ground around the tracks. In Europe, however, tracks for passenger trains always have platforms just rising above rail level, usually some two feet. The locomotive on the train is an Italian E645 poorly disguised as a generic Swiss locomotive on one end to remotely resemble the Re 4/4 II which was on the train all the time up to that point. It's still clearly visible that the Italian locomotive has an articulated carbody. This scene with this locomotive made it onto the movie poster. Both locomotives, by the way, would be unable to operate in Germany, the former because of the wrong current, the latter because the German catenary zig-zag is too wide.
- The sleeping-car has miraculously transformed from a modern MU to a roughly 40 years older Z, probably because the CIWL (Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits = International Sleeping-Car Company) wouldn't let the film crew put those blinds on an almost new car.
- In "Nuremberg", the locomotive is replaced by a diesel. While in "Nuremberg", it's an Italian D143. A refurbished American wartime switcher which doesn't even have head-end power for the train is supposed to haul it on the rest of its way. Immediately after leaving "Nuremberg" behind, the train rolls through daylight and what is said to be Poland behind a French first-series BB 66000 repainted green so that the differences in comparison with the previous Italian diesel aren't too obvious, although the BB 66000 looks nothing like a D143. (Originally, the BB 66000 were blue.)
- Also, both baggage cars suddenly run behind the BB 66000.
- The second class is depicted as saloon cars to make it look clearly inferior to the protagonists' first class. The three Swiss RIC coaches which make up the second class are all compartment cars, though. Also, the interior shot shows a first-class saloon car with only one seat on one side of the aisle and white headrest covers.
- When they were sealed, the two first-class coaches morphed into second-class coaches. This is very clearly visible: The first-class coaches have nine compartments and a yellow line below the roof, the second-class coaches have eleven or twelve compartments.
- According to the movie, there is a central electronic coupling control unit under the dining-car (and only there) from which all couplers on the train can be remote-controlled. In Real Life, however, European railroads still use the same manual couplings as in the mid-19th century. Blasting one's way to that control box by detonating gas in the restaurant is just as much non-sense, for it'd rather rip the Swiss dining-car's lightweight body to shreds than damage the floor.
- If (not only) a European train is separated while running without properly uncoupling the brake hoses, the rear part will not simply roll out. When the air brake system is opened and the pressure drops, the brakes will apply immediately in both halves of the train. In the movie, none of the two train halves brakes before one of the handbrakes on the separated rear part is used.
- It's clear from the locomotives and catenary already that only the scenes in Geneva are shot on location while most of the rest doesn't even take place in the same country. Most of what should be France or Germany is actually Switzerland, Nuremberg's main station is in Italy and lacks platforms, and Poland is actually France.
- When the train falls off the Cassandra Bridge (which is actually the famous Viaduc de Garabit in France, designed by Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame), among the falling vehicles are the dining-car, clearly identifiable as the only red car in an otherwise mostly green consist, and two second-class coaches. Just minutes before, the dining-car and everything behind it was explosively uncoupled from the train.
- The 2012 version of Anna Karenina features Keira Knightley and Jude Law playing Russian aristocrats, and Great Western Railway engines at Didcot doubling as Russian engines in Moscow. Besides the difference in loading gauge, the main problem is the use of a 1920s/1930s-style Great Western engine as a 19th-century Russian engine◊.
- The movie "The Iceman" is set in the late 1960's—1970's. But a modern-day train is clearly visible in an establishing shot of the New York City skyline.
- Flags of Our Fathers: At :43:05, this EMD "F" unit can be seen pulling a wartime troop train into town with the heroes aboard. While EMD was indeed building this style of locomotive starting in 1939, A careful inspection of spotting details reveals the lead loco to be an EMD F9, a post-war model not introduced until 1953. A more appropriate streamliner would have been an FT model. Later in the film, CB&Q 9911A averts this due to being a pre-war model.
- The subway train scene in Predator2 is set on a train in Los Angeles, except that anyone who is familiar with the interiors of rapid transit trains in California will clearly notice that it is a BART train, which operates in San Francisco.
Live Action TV
- "Body 21" from Waking the Dead features a slam-door train.
- A fun game to play while watching The Bill is spotting railway trains that have livery you would never see in East London, due to the South London filming location — South West Trains for example.
- James May's Toy Stories plays with this trope during the model train episode. In the episode, he revived a decommissioned piece of railroad in Britain using model train tracks. He and Oz Clarke got into arguments about which model trains they should run based on historical accuracy.
- On The Wild Wild West, the characters are able to move between cars while the train is in motion even though there are only couplings and not walkways of any sort between the cars.
- The History Channel has produced a documentary called The Men Who Built America. Naturally, railroads need to be and are involved. Unfortunately, many of the scenes of steam locomotives feature many European locomotives and trains. It's particularly glaring in the episode featuring a major Railroad Baron. Either the producers decided to cut costs and use stock footage, or they couldn't be bothered to obtain footage of available North American locomotives, some of which would have even (mostly) looked the part for the scene being depicted.
- A notorious historic example occurred in Edge Of Darkness, involving the symbolic nuclear waste trains that repeatedly appear. The creators weren't allowed to film a real nuclear waste train for security reasons, so they mocked one up by putting a wooden replica of the body of one of the medium-sized diesel locomotives used to haul nuclear waste trains on top of a small shunter. The results were cringeworthy to anyone who was at all familiar with the real thing.
- The shortlived Seventies show Supertrain was basically made of this trope.
- Thomas the Tank Engine has some examples. Whilst the author of the books, Wilbert Awdry, was a railway buff who made a point of getting the details right in his books, there are many examples of unrealistic railway operation in the TV series, particularly in later seasons.
- Crane tank engines (such as Harvey) are not capable of locomotive salvage (they are used mainly for lifting and loading cargo).
- A Japanese engine such as Hiro, or an American locomotive like Hank, would not be able to run on traditional British rails. US engines have a much larger loading gauge. than on British lines, and so would collide with the first bridge or platform it encountered. Whilst Japanese steam engines are a similar size to those in the UK, they were built for a narrower track gauge, and changing the gauge would make it too wide (as the cylinders, the widest point, would have to move out).
- Engines cannot switch tracks of their own volition, as the pointwork is controlled from levers, either as an open frame or in a building, beside the line and not from aboard the engine. The sole exception are tramways.
- It would be impractical, if not impossible, to build a railway line over a dam.
- It's dangerous to push trains that aren't designed to operate that way. It's extremely dangerous to push trains in a snowstorm. It's even more dangerous to push trains in a snowstorm without a brakevan.
- A "grabber" style crane would not be used in the scrapping of a railway locomotive.
- Steam locomotives do not have "engines", they are the engine.
- Actually a matter of semantics. The term 'engine' is generally accepted in Britain, at least for steam power. And locomotives do have engines, as in a pair of pistons driving a mechanism. Articulated locomotives have two of them.
- The entire climax of The Great Discovery:
- Standard gauge locomotives are not allowed to work in mineshafts.
- It's physically impossible to suspend railway tracks in such a way to support a steam locomotive.
- There's no water current strong enough to propel a locomotive down a river.
- The infamous Ramp Jump scene is impossible in itself.
- Thomas shouldn't have had any steam left at all, it should have gradually leaked out.
- You can't just move coal from one engine to another and expect it to start a fire — especially one whose firebox was previously flooded.
- It's impossible to operate a steam engine without a water injector.
- The general weirdness of the Misty Island railway: The zipline and the Shake Shake Bridge.
- Diesel wouldn't have been able to outrun Thomas, as Class 08 shunters have a max speed of 15 or 20 mph.
- Diesel would never have been able to keep his balance on the edge of the bridge. His spinning wheels would have caused the rails to bend, making him fall.
- It's unsafe for steam engines to travel underground over long distances. The smoke and steam would make the air toxic and suffocate the engine's crew.
- A steam locomotive running out of water wouldn't stop like a car out of petrol: it's boiler would explode.
- If it was short of water in the boiler the fire would be put out to prevent such a thing happening (and are designed to let water from the boiler into the fire if the level gets too low); such a scenario occurred in an early book, and whilst unpleasant the engine could continue with a reduced fire.
- Looney Tunes short. Bugs and Yosemite Sam are charging each other, playing 'Chicken' with locomotives. Sam chickens out first, before Bugs pulls a lever lifting his train up on extenders. Except.. aren't all the wheels still on the same rails? Rule of Funny.
- 1937's Porky's Railroad. 19th century limited crack train. Everything cracked...including the engineer.
- Chuggington has taken a lot of artistic licence with regard to railway operations:
- The steam locomotive characters lack tenders (one had one, but it wasn't used and rusted away), and apparently take on water directly into the boiler.
- Locomotives are much more dynamic that any real locomotive, and can jump off the rails and bounce back down perfectly.
- The film adaptation of The Little Engine that Could featured several steam locomotives that for some reason do not have tenders.
- The Illusionist generally does a brilliant job of capturing early-1960s Britain... apart from some very French-looking railway carriages in the background at Kings Cross station.
- The engine pulling the train in the revised intro for My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has neither a tender nor a bunker and onboard water tanks. The coal is carried inside the cab. The train in "Over a Barrel" is similarly lacking in any of these features, and even has ponies pulling the train while still having enough steam for the whistle.
- In "MMMystery on the Friendship Express" there's a scene involving the fireman (fire-pony?) shoveling coal into the engine's firebox. Pinkie Pie calls this pony a conductor. Conductors do not shovel coal, that's the fireman. Thia one's easy to Hand Wave as Pinkie not knowing what she's talking about, however.
- A common error in many cartoons is for steam engines to be operated by only the driver (engineer in American terms), with the fireman being mysteriously absent.
- Slighty Truth in Television: smaller tank engines used for shunting or short lines were able to be operated by one person most of the time, but not large mainline tender engines.
- The Transformers: Astrotrain's locomotive form has no tender. More forgivable in this case than in others, because of the whole "really an alien robot" thing, but it still ruins any chance of him passing as a proper locomotive.