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Cars Without Tires Are Trains

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In Real Life, rails are made for trains, roads are made for cars. In fiction, this line gets blurred.

Basically, if you've seen train tracks so far in the film, and then the hero's tires get shredded, you can bet that the car is going on those tracks. There's no explanation for why any car's rims will fit standard-gauge train track as if it were built for the task, except that it's cool.

As well as the obvious gauge problems (most cars have slightly different axle widths, while trains need to be extremely precise), there is a more subtle issue with this to do with physics. While it takes less energy for metal wheels to run on metal rails than for rubber tyres to run on the ground, the lower friction means that there is more chance for slippage between the wheel and rail. Since road vehicles are often lighter than rail vehicles, accelerating without causing a wheel-spin and braking without skidding can require great caution.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Dola gang pursues the heroes with their car on railroad tracks in Castle in the Sky, as seen in the page image.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Cars 2, one of the activities that Mater drags Lightning into in the beginning of the movie is driving on abandoned railroad tracks without tires.
  • This happens to Bill Sykes' limousine in the climax of Oliver & Company as he chases Fagin's scooter into the subway. Roscoe and DeSoto fall off the car in the struggle and land on the subway's third rail, electrocuting them. Sykes' car eventually drives straight into the path of an oncoming train, killing him in a fiery blaze and throwing him and his car into the East River.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Back to the Future Part III, the Delorean fits perfectly onto the train tracks in 1885. In this case, it's been deliberately modified by Doc Brown with actual train wheels so that a steam locomotive could push it in order to get up to 88 miles per hour, meaning more thought was put into it than other examples.
  • In the Get Smart film, 23 takes 99 hostage and flees in a vehicle. After a chase, Max manages to rescue 99, but in the struggle, the car is set on fire and forced onto railroad tracks. Max kisses 23 to distract him, a trick learned from 99. He and 99 are thrown off the vehicle before it collides with a freight train, killing 23.
  • One of the major chases of Lethal Weapon 3 involves Riggs trying to catch up with the Big Bad, who is trying to escape with a cargo of illegal guns and ammo he just stole from the LAPD evidence locker, through the LA metro lines running under the station. An unusual example because, unlike other cars on this page, the pick-up truck used for the heist was modified with a draisine rig (mentioned below in Real Life) — once the Big Bad reaches a regular street, he just retracts the train wheels and drives normally.
  • The "train" at the end of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome is a retrofitted truck.
  • In the James Bond movie Octopussy, Bond drives across some "severe tire damage" spikes on the Russian/Eastern bloc border. He then drives the car along the tracks to chase Octopussy's circus train. He manages to jump from the car to the train just before the car is struck by a train coming the other direction.
  • Unstoppable: One of the various attempts at stopping the Runaway Train is Dewey and Gilleece (the two idiots that caused said train to become a runaway) racing alongside it on a parallel track in a Ford F-150 with a draisine rig and trying to jump aboard.
  • In xXx: State of the Union, Deckert and Cobb abduct Sanford while he is making the State of the Union Address. They escape on a bullet train. Jackson arrives with a car, and Stone uses it to infiltrate the train by driving along the tracks.

    Live-Action TV 
  • MacGyver (1985):
    • In "Bushmaster", MacGyver breaks Henderson out of his cell with the help of a local contact, and they head toward the border in a broken-down jeep riding on train tracks.
    • In "Inferno", the climactic part of the scheme to close a runaway fire on an oil well by blowing it up includes improvising a cart to deliver the explosives with some rail tracks and a burnt-out jeep.
  • An episode of Top Gear involved a car being modified to pull a train. They start out with Jeremy Clarkson buying a Jaguar XJ-S convertible to serve as the "engine" but the rear-wheel-drive can't budge the caravans being used as coaches. An argument ensues and Jeremy takes the car off to build his own "sports train" with a single carriage. The new configuration moves but it's absolutely horrifying to ride in. James and Richard buy a four-wheel-drive car that does pull their caravan coaches, but their project ends with the dining car catching fire.

    Video Games 
  • Early in the Sicily level of Medal of Honor: Allied Assault Breakthrough, Baker encounters an Italian armored car converted for use on train tracks. Later, during the Anzio level, he finds another one, and decides to use it to neutralize one of the German railway cannons further down a hill.

    Western Animation 
  • In Thomas & Friends, the character of Winston is a track inspection vehicle owned by Sir Topham Hatt, who essentially resembles a convertible without tires. Sir Topham Hatt uses him to travel along the rails. Ultimately justified, as Winston is based on the real-life Type 4B Wickham Trolley, which is specifically designed to ride on rails and only resembles a car superficially.

    Real Life 
  • In Real Life, a small number of Jeeps have been outfitted to work on railroad tracks in military service.
  • Railroads use cars and trucks for railroad maintenance of way vehicles. This is done through a set of retractable rail wheels behind each set of tires. These are called draisines (or "speeders" in the United States).
  • Similarly, during the early years of the switch from steam to internal-combustion, a number of minor railways in different parts of the world converted road buses into railcars, often with little more alteration than changing the wheels.
  • In World War II, the Russians had a variant on their standard heavy armored car, the BA-10, that had both rail and road wheels. This enabled it to be driven onto a railway track, where the rail wheels were lowered into place and the armoured car then became a self-propelled railway wagon and could be sent ahead to check the track for obstructions, enemy activity and so on. If it also triggered any mines planted by the Germans, the theory ran, it was still cheaper than losing a whole train.
  • The Irish military did something during the Irish Civil War with their Lanica 1Zs but replaced their road wheels with train wheels.
  • Attempted by one criminal fleeing from officers; unable to evade the law on the streets and with two of his wheels running flat, he steered his large pickup truck onto the railroad tracks to make his getaway. What he failed to take into account was that it's a lot harder to keep the wheels on the rails than it looks in the movies, and a railroad track is anything but smooth, what with the railroad ties and all. The resulting bumpiness literally shook his truck to pieces, and it eventually gave up the ghost about a mile down the line, at which point the criminal abandoned it and was subsequently caught.

Alternative Title(s): Cars Without Tyres Are Trains