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Just Train Wrong
aka: Did Not Choo The Research

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, aircraft 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.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • 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.

    Comics 
  • 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.

    Film 
  • 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. Also, the orange and maroon livery the cars are wearing is post-war.
  • 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.
      • Extra cab cars are occasionally used as coaches, and when doing so, may face either direction. Still makes no sense to keep a gun there.
    • 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.
    • That or Payne found a way to subvert it, just like he had with an elevator's emergency brakes earlier.
  • 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.
    • Yeah, but its a magic train
  • 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.
  • The Shinkansen (bullet train) is powered by overhead lines, which The Wolverine gets right — the characters studiously try to avoid hitting them — but these overhead lines power the trains by way of very large pantographs, which take up substantial space on the roof the train. We could Hand Wave it as the Traintop Battle occurring atop a part of the train without one, but careful watching suggests that simply do not exist on the bullet train in the film, which is shown zooming along with no physical connection to the catenary above it. Case in point: there are at least two obstacles mounted low enough to pass between the train and the overhead lines, and Logan is forced to (carefully) leap over them. The question of how they got there aside, each of these on their own would have caused a major rail accident — perhaps the worst in the bullet train's half-century of operation — before it even got to him.

    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.
  • The Sherlock episode "The Empty Hearse" made the limitations of what filming locations London Underground make available very clear to anyone who knows the network. The train that one car disappears from is supposedly on the District Line (a full-size line), but the CCTV shots are very clearly filmed at the disused Charing Cross station on the Jubilee Line (a tube line). The disused station that Sherlock and John explore is recognisably Aldwych, and the exterior of the car they discover is the 1972 Tube Stock train that's parked there for filming, but when they board the car the interior is obviously a correct District Line D stock one.

    Video Games 

  • Even to a person with little knowledge of steam locomotives, the artistic licence taken by The Legend Of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is quite glaring. First of all, the trains in the game are tiny compared to those in real life, secondly, the Spirit Train has no tender or supply car (Instead sporting a cannon of all things, which would likely be top heavy enough to tip the entire train over.) The spirit train is also very clean, with no sign of ash or smoke anywhere save for the pretty white puff-balls discharged from the chimney (Which appears to work as a whistle despite a separate whistle being clearly visible on the engine.) The train has no visible infrastructure, never runs out of water or coal, and the tracks have green ties and yellow rails and are insanely narrow. Also, the ties are arranged in a zig-zag pattern. That's several problems found without even having an in-depth knowledge of how locomotives are constructed.

    Western Animation 
  • 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. This one's easy to Hand Wave as Pinkie not knowing what she's talking about, however.
    • Since season 4, any scene taking place at the train station is accompanied with the background sounds of a diesel locomotive idling despite there only being steam trains in the show.
    • In "Three's A Crowd", one scene depicts a streamlined steam locomotive...with four wheels, a giant funnel, and no cylinders or axles.
  • 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.

    Real Life 
  • The Soviet Union used a broader rail gauge than the rest of Europe, posing some potential logistics problems for Nazi Germany which they solved in typical Nazi fashion by using slave labor to change captured rail lines in former Soviet territory from Russian gauge to Standard gauge. They also transshipped loads and even regauged cars by the simple expedients of swapping the car bodies to a new set of bogies (trucks in American parlance). While this worked well as a stop-gap it was uneconomical for long term use since changing rail gauge is so simple — just unspike the rail, shift it three and a half inches, and spike it back down—that a relatively small crew could regauge an entire line in a remarkably short period of time. When the Russians recaptured an area they simply set the track back to Russian gauge, unless the Germans had also cut off or replaced the crossties, in which case they had to be replaced.
  • Runaway trains just do not happen in normal operation, due to the entire braking system being designed in a fail-safe manner. Any loss of pressure in the brake line or command authority in an electric control system will automatically apply the brakes on any set of wagons built after the 1870s, and most heavily-laden trains had a brake van/caboose at the rear before that. Almost all passenger and many freight locomotives contain alertness features that sense if there is a live operator and stop the train if there is not.

    That said, the fail safety of the braking system can be disabled by accident as in the 1917 Ciurea train disaster, which leads to a number of runaway incidents every year. However, in modern times, due to brake test requirements, runaways are usually just parked cars or trainsets that get loose from a yard.

    Improper handling of long freight trains can lead to a complete loss of braking air resulting in a runaway. Overloaded trains can also have insufficient braking force to stop the mass. Some freight locomotives are not equipped with crew alertness (Deadman) devices, and some that are can be circumvented either deliberately or accidentally during the course of a Hollywood Heart Attack.
    • Though this is almost always true now, there are things that can go wrong to result in a runaway train. In a particularly infamous incident during the 1950s, a GG-1 locomotive wound up parked in what is now the Washington Union Station food court after some valves on the brakes malfunctioned and others were accidentally left closed, leaving the brakes released. With that said, the whole affair was surprisingly free of drama (the relevant parts of the station were cleared in an orderly fashion, while most of the passengers just thought they'd had a rough stop), and incidents like that are hardly long enough for even a TV episode. This was the incident that inspired the finale to The Silver Streak.
    • Rather than a train's brakes being out of commission, as usually happens in "runaway train" scenarios in fiction, Real Life accidents can and do happen if there's a sudden and unplanned need for a train to stop. Vehicles stalled out on the tracks are a common reason why a train might crash into something, simply because it takes a long time for even perfectly-functional brakes to halt anything so heavy.
  • If it is required to blow a train up in a UK drama plot, expect the train to be an Electric Multiple Unit or Diesel Multiple Unit of the Mark 1 slam-door stock variety. These were withdrawn from mainline service in 2005, although a number run on heritage lines. Train companies don't like you blowing up their Desiros or Pacers. Although there are plenty of enthusiasts who would enjoy that a lot.
  • During filming of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, they ran into this trope while filming the Hogwarts Express in Scotland - the engine used was built by the Great Western Railway, which had a wider loading gauge than was normal in Britain. This meant that the engine fouled station platforms when being driven to filming locations. Slightly ironic, given that most on-screen railway inaccuracies could have been satisfactorily resolved by saying that A Wizard Did It.
  • Another one from Soviet Russia: The most drive wheels ever on an unarticulated engine is 14, 7 on each side. The middle wheels had no flanges so they could come off the rails when going around corners, and four of the seven driving wheelsets could be shifted laterally. Still, the engine was way too big and heavy for the rails even with 22 wheels, it destroyed every single switch it ran over, and it derailed whenever it moved. It did qualify for Awesome, but Impractical.
  • One which turns up in real-world news reports and many fictional works is the belief that severing a coupling between two vehicles in a moving train inevitably leads to a huge crash. Passenger trains in developed countries since the early 20th century, and freight trains since after World War II, have automatic continuous braking systems that will automatically safely slow and stop a train if a coupling breaks. In earlier times, it was possible for a part of a train that broke off to run away unbraked and derail or collide with something (including possibly the front half of the train). However, even then breaking a coupling would not immediately cause the whole train to leap off the tracks and explode.
  • Most cartoon trains are actually six-wheeled steam locomotives without tenders that cannot decide whether they should be a 0-4-2, a 0-6-0, a 2-2-2, a 2-4-0, or a 4-2-0. It may or may not have drive rods.
  • It's commonly said that train engineers on the job for any reasonable length of time will kill somebody, due to the sheer ignorance of your average person about trains. Police and emergency personnel sometimes are trained to simply restrain a person and drag them off the tracks, since that's easier than explaining that the train they see 100 feet away has already applied the brakes, and it is still going to destroy their car.
    • At least German journalists haven't understood this yet. When a car crossed a closed level crossing and was hit by a train, they write about the train speeding into the car. Seriously, if a 1ˇ5-ton sedan with five meters of hydraulic brake lines running rubber tires on asphalt takes 35 metres to stop from 100kmh, that doesn't mean that a 400-ton regional train or a 600-ton Intercity with 200 or 300 metres of pneumatic brake lines running steel wheels on steel tracks can do the same.
    • This is an ongoing issue is parts of Australia, with public idiocy regarding train line crossings semi-regularly appearing in the news. To demonstrate the point, one new presenter was put behind the controls of a training system to show just how little he could do, even with a kilometer's notice, to prevent gradually baring down closer and closer to a car stopped on the tracks until the train hit with enough momentum left to crush it like an aluminium can.
    "That's not a simulator, that's a horror movie."
    • In the UK, this is even more serious because on at least two occasions, collisions with a vehicle on the tracks has actually derailed a passenger train. Network Rail eventually threw up their hands and began the long and expensive process of replacing level crossings with bridges over the railway.
  • Swedish locomotive builder, Nohab, built locomotives under license to GM EMD for European railroads. This is a decent example. The Santa Fe never served Europe, so why is this locomotive painted in ATSF's Warbonnet scheme? The same could be said of this locomotive, which was repainted for a role in Dancer in the Dark.
  • After a train derailed in the UK, the a spokesperson for the train company praised the heroic driver for "staying at his controls and helping to keep the train upright and prevent more casualties". Some media even took this as far as saying that he steered the train to safety. As anyone, even a small child, with any knowledge of how railways works knows, trains cannot be steered and go where the rails take them, and once they are off the rails there is nothing anyone can do beyond throwing in the emergency brakes and holding on.
    • With the same accident, there was also praise about how well the at the time new train had stood up with just superficial damage and just one fatality. It was said to be "built like a tank", and there were many comments about "if it had been one of the old trains this would have been much worse". This was ironic and wrong in two ways. Firstly modern trains, like modern cars, are designed to crumple in accidents to reduce the impact forces on passengers (unlike older trains and cars that often really were built like tanks), and the fact that there was little damage showed that really the forces on the train had been very little. Secondly the "old trains" that had been recently replaced had been involved in many accidents during their nearly 30 years in service, many far more serious (including 4 100mph + head on collisions) yet all had involved far less casualties than would be expected, and that had lead to praise for their strength and tank like construction.
      • A train crash does not "work" like a car crash. Maximum decelerations are much lower, and the main danger to passengers is being crushed by the carriages deforming. This was particularly evident with the old-style body-on-chassis construction where carriages would "telescope" into the end of each other with the chassis of one destroying the body of the next along with the people inside. Modern carriages - such as the BR Mk 3 introduced in the 70s and subsequent designs based on it - are designed to resist crash loads, especially end loading, without deforming. This is very evident when comparing photographs of severe crashes of old-construction trains, with mangled piles of wreckage, to photos of high speed crashes of modern deformation-resistant stock, where the carriages are scattered about the landscape but remain more or less intact. See for instance Hatfield, Great Heck, Esschede; most of the carriages are little damaged apart from one or two that broke their back against an OLE mast or that were crushed by a bridge falling on them, and it is in those damaged carriages that the majority of deaths and serious injuries occurred.


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