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Chained to a Railway

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"I'm afraid she's a little tied up at the moment, but don't fret — I have a feeling we'll be running into her shortly."
Khallos, TimeSplitters Future Perfect, milking the pun and the situation for all they're worth

The music is high-tempo, the damsel is in distress, and the mustachioed villain is mugging to the camera. Yup, she's been chained to a railroad track, and the 7:10 Express is running right on time.

Despite popular opinion, there are hardly any silent films in which you'll see this exact scenario. And in the ones where it does happen, it's usually played for laughs, making fun of the already well-known trope from the world of theater. When this trope did appear in silent cinema, it was usually Played With in various ways, and had more variation to it than modern homages would have you believe. Nevertheless, parodies are often done in a Retraux style that imitates old silent movies.

This familiar scenario first appeared in the 1867 short story "Captain Tom's Fright," although a more rudimentary form of it was seen on stage in 1863 in the play The Engineer. However, it really entered the meme pool as a result of its inclusion in the 1867 play Under the Gaslight, by Augustin Daly. (Interestingly, in Gaslight the victim is a male, not a fair maiden - and is in fact rescued by the fair maiden.) By 1868, it reportedly could be found in five different London plays all running at the same time, and remained a theatre staple for decades. Variations of this trope was used in the films The Train Wreckers (1905) and Buster in Nodland (1912) before appearing in its most iconic form in the 1913 Keystone Komedy film Barney Oldfield's Race For A Life, where it was already Played for Laughs. It's commonly associated with the 1914 film serial The Perils of Pauline, but this is probably due to confusion (no one knows for sure, since neither the full serial nor the script have survived).

If a Dastardly Whiplash character appears, he'll probably use this trope without shame, befitting of a similarly "outdated" villain. Heck, he'll be proud to show off his knowledge of "the classics."

As bizarre (and horrible) as it may seem, this trope is Truth in Television. At least six people in the United States were killed between 1874 and 1910 as a result of being tied to railroad tracks. Of course, it was never as common in real life as in fiction, no doubt because there are more efficient ways of murdering people.

Usually, the trains used in this trope would be powered by old-time steam engines, but a few modern uses/parodies would use diesel locomotives instead. It's also a hazard for characters in a Mouse World, who have enough difficulty with toy trains, let alone real ones.

For more information, see this page at The Straight Dope website.

If the hero can't reach the maiden, he may have to engage in some Trainstopping. See Chained to a Rock, which is much, much older, but operates on the same basic principle. Compare Railroad Tracks of Doom.


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  • Spoofed in this Aflac insurance commercial.
  • Spoofed in this 1999 ad for Coors light.
  • Mentioned in a radio ad for SoBe Power energy drinks. The narrator proposes that the listener might feel strong, but wants to feel stronger, strong enough to stop a train. The narrator then brings up a scenario where a pretty girl is tied to the tracks, and to impress her, the listener could stop the train with only one hand.

    Anime & Manga 
  • The manga sequel to Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, Shinsetsu Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, features a villain that captures both Beauty and Dengaku-man, and he chains them up to the end of a downward-spiraling train track; Bo-bobo and his group must defeat all of the enemies on each of the trains in order to stop them in time. Only Softon is able to fully stop one of the trains; at the last minute, Heppokomaru/Gasser is able to destroy all of them and save Beauty.
  • Doraemon: Nobita in the Wan-Nyan Spacetime Odyssey: The story's Big Bad, Neko-Jara, have the kidnapped Idol Singer Syami (whom Doraemon had a crush on) chained to the tracks of his amusement park, in order to threaten Doraemon to fix the Devolution Light. Doraemon complies in a desperate attempt to save Syami, but it turns out Syami was a spy working for Neko-Jara and not in any danger in the first place.
  • In the fourth episode of the Gintama anime, Shinpachi and Kagura (who is "introduced" in said episode) are pushed onto a train track while being stuck in a garbage can. They are saved by Gintoki... who just happened to be around because he managed to find that week's Shonen Jump at the station's newsstand.
  • The ninja students do this to the teacher Hayato in the very first episode of ''Himawari'.
  • Played straight in Jo Jos Bizarre Adventure Stardust Crusaders when Joseph and Abdul are both magnetized to one of the rails (and each other) by their enemy. Of course, Abdul could have just melted away the rail with his power over fire, but since it would derail the oncoming train, they had to be a bit more clever in their escape.

  • Colmar railway station in France has an enormous stained glass window displaying one of these scenes. It is not clear why any railway company would think this was a good idea.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman:
    • Detective Comics #532. The plot in one sentence: Joker ties Batman to a train and Vicki to the track; Batman breaks free and saves her.
    • Bane did this to at least one street-thug as an Enhanced Interrogation Technique (in a slight variation, the victim wasn't laid flat on the railway, but forced to kneel on it, with his arms chained to tunnel-walls to keep his torso upright). Since Bane's not Batman, he makes no move to free the poor guy even after he's got the info he wanted.
  • The villains do this to the Tenth Doctor on the 1st issue of the Doctor Who (IDW) Ongoing Comics...then again the setting was Hollywood, 1926.
  • Dudley Do-Right: One story's last panel features an insurance salesman trying to sell Snidely Whiplash a special villains' policy by saying it'll cover him if he's struck by a train while tying someone to a railroad track.
  • Jonah does this to a corrupt Pinkerton Detective (who has just murdered a 13 year old boy) in Jonah Hex #13 (original series).
  • In the Justice Society of America story in All-Star Comics #40 (1948), a teenage gang ties one of their members to a stretch of disused railroad tracks as a prank (the idea being to scare him). However, an explosion forces the railroad to reroute a train onto the 'disused' tracks...
    • In a previous JSA story in All-Star Comics #34, the Wizard shrinks Green Lantern and ties him to the track of a model train set. The villain even Lampshades the trope.
  • In The Muppet Show Comic Book #2, there's a page called "From the Top-Secret Casebook of Scooter, Boy Detective", which ends with Scooter watching the hypnotist Creepy McBoo tying a chicken to the railway tracks and noting "Remain firmly unconvinced that McBoo is not an evil hypnotist."
  • In the Human Torch story in the third issue of Marvel Mystery Comics, the villains do this to the female side character of the week. A somewhat unusual twist is that there was no train coming and the villain decided to drive a nearby locomotive at her himself.
  • Scooby-Doo! Team-Up: In "Perils Before Swine", Penelope is being tied "to yet another train track" and sees this as the Hooded Claw not having much originality.
  • In Sensation Comics #26, Wonder Woman is tied to the railway tracks with what she thinks is her magic lasso. It isn't as her mother has stolen her lasso and replaced it with a copy. Once she realises it is a fake, she is able to break loose and stop the train by lifting the locomotive off the tracks.
  • Sergio Aragonés Destroys DC has one pair of tied damsels on the splash panel for his Superman story (keep magnifying glass handy).
  • A sci-fi variation (not to mention a rare heroic one) occurs in Spider-Man 2099 where Spider-Man is clearly outmatched by a cybernetic bounty hunter, and uses his wits to get the cyborg caught by his metal parts on the intense magnetic field of a maglev track and then hit by an oncoming vehicle.
  • Issue 60 of The Superman Adventures has a flashback of Superman showing up to save Jimmy Olsen when he's been tied to a set of train tracks as Toyman rides an oversized toy train that's about to run him over.
  • Chicago gangster Bobby Smiles did this to Tintin in Tintin in America. Tintin is saved not by Snowy (who had been driven off by Bobby and his friend moments earlier), but by a fussy old lady who demands that the conductor of the train do something about a puma chasing a stag, thereby stopping the train so that Tintin can get the conductor's attention. This wouldn't be so ridiculous if Gladstone Gander was tied up in his place, but each of these events looks horribly out-of-place in Tintin books...

    Comic Strips 
  • Charles Addams, creator of The Addams Family, parodied this in one of his cartoons in The New Yorker. A pair of thugs are tying somebody to railroad tracks while a woman who lives alongside the tracks looks on and says "I don't mean to interrupt, but there hasn't been a train over that line in 18 years." Addams also did one where a Snidely Whiplash-type villain is seen headed down into a subway station with a bound and gagged heroine slung over one shoulder.
  • Played for Laughs in Footrot Flats. After the Dog misses the game-winning catch in a cricket match because he falls asleep, Wal ties him to the track for the sight screen and attempts to run the screen over the top of him.
  • In the "Sweet Caroline" arc in Modesty Blaise, one of the attention getting murders committed by Sweet Caroline is to drug a famous actress and tie her to a railway track like a heroine from an old-time melodrama.
  • The Unofficial I Hate Computers Book (with cartoons about hating computers) features this trope too — of course parodied, since it's not a damsel tied to the tracks but, duh, a computer.
  • A cartoon in a magazine showed several early 1900s suffragettes driving along and spotting a friend of theirs, an elegant lady who cheerfully waves her parasol at them... as she stands over the Dastardly Whiplash type she tied to the tracks. The driver comments that this is one of their "more militant sisters."

    Fan Works 
  • This Time Round: In the story "Master Test", the Jacobi Master, challenged to prove his evilness, decides to tie Mel to a railway. She complains that he's being unimaginative.
  • Saiko Rocks: A flashback shows SMG3 doing this to Tari For the Evulz.
  • Witches Wizards Shadows and Souls: A slight variation occurs in the sequel Magic Monsters Dominions and Destiny. Joey and a mind-controlled Koji start an Orichalcos duel on the train tracks while a train is scheduled to show up. Because of the Seal of Orichalcos, they cannot change their location, so they're forced to finish the duel before the train shows up or they both die. Joey manages to break Koji out of his brainwashing and they work together to end the duel in a draw, saving both their lives.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A variant of this trope is done in 3 Ninjas: High Noon on Mega Mountain where the bad guys tie Rocky's girlfriend to the tracks of a roller coaster. What makes it nightmarish is that they just tie her arms to the track and leave her dangling, meaning if Rocky had failed to save her, then the roller coaster would have severed her arms and then she would have fallen to her death.
  • As noted above, by the time this was first done in film for 1913 comedy Barney Oldfield's Race For A Life, it was already a subject for parody, and in fact might have already been a Discredited Trope or Dead Horse Trope.
  • Parodied in the 1912 German comedy short Buster in Nodland, in which the eponymous Kid Hero has a dream where a group of equally young cowboys tie him to tracks of a toy train. Fortunately, he is rescued by his "girlfriend", Henriëtte.
  • A variation (without the actual chaining part) appears in The Train Wreckers (1905), where a group of bandits knock a woman out and just leave her on the tracks.
  • Parodied in the 1919 silent film East Lynne With Variations, (loosely based on the 1861 novel.) Showing the sheer age of this trope, the magazine ''Photo Play Journal'' already described it — and other parodied cliches — as The Oldest Ones in the Book.
    Old-timers! Look to the right and see what Ben Turpin does with your favorite "mother and chee-ild" [sic] scene! And in the picture below, how he lays flippant hands upon one of the most sacred traditions of melodrama — the railroad rescue!
  • While this may never have happened in the original The Perils of Pauline serial, it did happen to Violet Standish — also played by Pearl White — in the 1917 serial The Fatal Ring, perhaps contributing to the misconception. (Somewhat Subverted in that she wasn't actually chained or tied down; the poster merely shows her lying unconscious on the rails.)
  • Parodied in Gremlins 2: The New Batch, where one of the many tortures that is done to Gizmo has him tied to a miniature train track. A miniature train then painfully collides with him, but does no lasting damage.
  • The entirely railroad-focused adventure serial The Hazards of Helen (1914-1917) naturally used this trope a few times. Though as the protagonist — played initially by Helen Holmes — was a competent Action Girl who usually saved the day, this falls more under Badass in Distress.
    • Played With in the 1915 episode "The Death Train," where Helen is tied to a railway bridge and then suspended underneath it. Fortunately, she manages to swing back up before the train comes and cuts the rope.
    • Played With in When Rogues Fall Out — another 1915 episode — where Helen is tied up in her own office only to end up in front of an approaching train — still bound — during her escape. In the end, she actually gets the train to stop herself, saving both it and her own life.
    • Helen Holmes' replacement — Helen Gibson — would later save a man from a speeding locomotive in the 1916 episode The Dynamite Train. As in The Train Wreckers, he was technically not secured to the track, but knocked unconsious and left there by criminals.
    • Helen Holmes also starred in the (now lost) 1916 serial ''A Lass of the Lumberlands'', in which she saved her male companion Tom Dawson (Leo D. Maloney) from such a fate.
  • This crops up in Kingsman: The Secret Service where the three candidates for the position of Lancelot end up drugged and Eggsy ends up tied to a track by a man demanding to know about Kingsman and Harry Hart. This ends up being a Secret Test of Character to see how devoted the candidates are. Eggsy and Roxy pass with flying colours, the latter offscreen. Charlie... not so much.
  • Played straight, probably for the first time in years, by The Matrix. Rather than tying Neo to the tracks, immortal Agent Smith just puts him in a chokehold, holding him in place, and makes him watch the oncoming subway train. (Smith, being an Agent, doesn't have to worry about dying himself.) Unfortunately for Smith, his goading triggers Neo's Berserk Button, and Neo escapes.
  • This happened in one episode of The Million Dollar Mystery, a 1914 serial, where Florence Gray Hargreave (Florence La Badie) saves her co-star Jim Norton (James Cruze), who has been bound to a railroad.
  • In Nellie the Beautiful Cloak Model from 1924, the eponymous Nellie (Claire Windsor) gets tied up by the evil Polly Joy (Mae Busch). A rare case of a woman doing this to another woman. This was apparently an attempt at playing the trope straight, but contemporary reports indicate that people had a hard time taking this seriously.
    The Film Daily: It wasn't considerate of the Capitol audience to laugh when Claire was tied to the 'L' tracks and the express train came within an inch of decapitating her pretty blonde head. But they seemed to enjoy the thrill of this and other bits, nevertheless.
  • Parodied in the movie Night at the Museum where the security guard is tied to toy train tracks by the miniature cowboys in a diorama. The train hits his head and then falls off the tracks.
  • The 1947 The Perils of Pauline film — actually a musical biopic about actress Pearl White — played this trope straight in a Death Trap montage. The film was Very Loosely Based on a True Story, and arguably more of a Troperiffic homage to adventure serials in general than a direct copy of the original work.
  • This trope is referenced in the song "The Happiest Home in These Hills" from Pete's Dragon (1977), with the two sons in the Gogan family singing (among the many awful things they plan to do to Pete for running away) "Tie him screaming to a railroad track".
  • Sabotage (2014) is a rare male example: DEA commando Pyro wakes up to find his RV has been dragged into the path of an oncoming train.
  • Jill Tuck is tied to a tunnel in the trailer and teaser of Saw 3D.
    • A more literal variant of this appears in the Saw spinoff Spiral, where the opening trap features an officer effectively tied to subway tracks by his tongue.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) has Count Olaf attempt to kill the Baudelaire orphans by leaving them in a locked car parked on the railroad tracks.
  • Played nearly straight in the film Stay Tuned, when Helen is tied to the tracks in the path of an oncoming train that's going to crash into a stockpile of explosives: "He's going to hit me with a train AND blow me up?!" Then again, the movie sends up a lot of Dead Horse Tropes.
  • According to IMDB, this is one of several Death Traps in which the Dastardly Whiplash Villas Canbe puts the Designated Victim Gladys Villing after she rejects his advances in the 1915 comedy The Strenuous Life. The hero, Manly Fellows, eventually gets tired of the constant rescuing and settles down with her mother instead, while Gladys marries Villas.
  • Stuart Little features Stuart lampooning this trope by tying himself to a model railway, with his own tail.
  • One of the oldest parodies of this trope was in the 1917 short silent film, Teddy at the Throttle. Gloria Swanson is chained to a railway, and a dog and an effeminate boy save her. Part of the humor derives from the fact that Gloria Swanson's character was clearly badass, even breaking down a door earlier in the film. Her love interest is timid and emotional, and it seems that it would be more likely that she would be the one saving him. The train, after the conductors are alerted by the dog, Teddy, of the girl on the tracks, even stops a few seconds too late. The girl actually has to dig herself a hole with her feet so that she can safely hide in it as the train moves over her. A job well done, supposedly.
  • The trailer for the film Trainspotting consists of a postscript scene (not in either the book or the film itself) of Renton (Ewan McGregor) tied to a railway line, and telling the audience how the other characters caught him and did this to punish him for the final events in the film itself. Possibly done to relate the title to the film and avoid confusion.
  • In Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Cherie Chung's character (alongside her two Plucky Comic Relief sidekicks) are tied to a railway with an incoming train. They manage to escape literally two seconds away from being run over, but Cherie lose her pants in the process. Cue the two pervy sidekicks getting an eyeful.
    "Wow, pink underpants!"
  • However, the above-mentioned Under the Gaslight was adapted to the screen in 1914, and still got away with using the trope, (perhaps thanks to having a Grandfather Clause on its side.)
  • An attempt to film such a scene in 1907 ended in disaster when the train didn't stop in time.

  • Played with in an old joke involving a guy discussing how he found a girl tied to a railroad track and, after untying her, had all sorts of sex with her. Upon being asked by the person he's talking with whether they had oral sex, the guy states, "Couldn't. Her head was missing."
  • There was an old rhyme about a man now please take note, there was a man who had a goat. The goat ate three red shirts off the clothesline, prompting the man to tie the goat to the railroad track. Just as the train was approaching, the goat threw up the shirts, thus flagging down the train.

  • In the Agent Angel (formerly known as Angels Unlimited) series, Miss Bloom is tied to the train tracks whilst filming a movie—with her brother crouching just out of shot with knife, in case a train really does come.
  • One chapter of the Massive Multiplayer Crossover Angels of Music features a gathering of bad guys including the villains of the old film serials The Perils of Pauline and The Exploits of Elaine, who have a conversation with each other about how this never works out for them.
  • Bruce Coville's Book of... Nightmares: In Death's Door, Death tricks his way into acting as a substitute bus driver, then parks the bus on a set of train tracks, seals the doors and waits for the train to hit it, killing everyone aboard. They're saved when they remember the bus has kick-out windshields as an emergency backup.
  • In Contest, Swain kills an alien by latching one end of a set of handcuffs around its incredibly thin neck, the other around a hook in a subway track, pulling it across the rail, and letting a passing subway train slice it in two.
  • Used in Anthony Horowitz's Diamond Brothers books. The protagonist notes that for all the narrow escapes he's had, he's never going to write a book about how to free yourself when you're very securely tied to a train track, because it's just not gonna happen. He's only saved by an outside party.
  • The Discworld guidebook Mrs Bradshaw's Guide (a tie-in with Raising Steam) states that the railway abandoned plans for a route passing Holy Wood Hill due to a persistent hallucination among the workmen that there was a young woman chained to the tracks.
  • One of the pictures in Daniel Cohen's Horror in the Movies is a woodcut from Scenes from the Nineteenth-Century Stage in Advertising Woodcuts which apparently depicts the climactic scene from the previously-mentioned Under the Gaslight. Notable features include a sign stating "LOOK OUT FOR LOCOMOTIVE" and the train being about three feet from the action.
  • In the Ian Fleming novel The Man with the Golden Gun the villain Scaramanga does this to Bond Girl Mary Goodnight. James Bond is unable to save her only it turns out to be just a dummy on the tracks, to draw Bond out into the open.
  • An advertisement for a railroad in Our Dumb Century claims that this happens less frequently on their railroad than on competing lines.
  • In Craig Shaw Gardner's Revenge of the Fluffy Bunnies one of the tapestries in the Citadel of Dread depicts a man in a stovepipe hat gloating at a woman tied to the tracks.
  • Played completely straight in Tad Williams' River of Blue Fire series. However, since the villain in question is the bored, sociopathic god of a virtual world the women end up run over, multiple times.
  • The heroine of Charles Stross's Saturn's Children is chained in front of a city that travels across Mercury's terminator on rails.
  • Roald Dahl uses it — and not as parody — when two bullies tie a boy to the tracks in the short story "The Swan" (from The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More). We witness each excruciating second as the boy realizes they aren't joking and don't plan to untie him, anticipates his death, stops to calculate the necessary clearance, realizes he could possibly make it if his head were a bit lower, burrows the back of his head into the gravel, and then keeps his body still and taut as the train rushes over him. (And the train tracks aren't the last torment the bullies inflict on him, either; they end up shooting him in the leg with a rifle.)

    Live-Action TV 
  • Unusual example appeared in 21 Jump Street - Hanson was handcuffed to a railroad track by the episode's Manic Pixie Dream Girl so that he could feel the "rush" of impending death. She did rescue him in the nick of time, of course.
  • In the pilot episode of The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., Brisco and Lord Bowler are tied to the railway tracks by the John Bly Gang.
  • Played straight in the 50s The Adventures of Superman episode "The Perils of Superman". Victim was Lois Lane, natch. For bonus points, they also had Perry White tied to a log in a sawmill.
  • In the Telenovela Angel Rebelde, Crystal ties Patricia to the railway as revenge for betraying and lying to her throughout the series. Patricia begs to be let go but Crystal leaves her there to die and drives off in Patricia's car. Patricia is shown giving one final shout before her off screen death.
  • Arrow
    • In "An Innocent Man", Oliver Queen interrogates a miscreant by chaining him to a railroad track, then shooting free the chain at the last moment so he can dive free.
      Oliver: Now, either it's time to tell me the truth, or it's time for the 10:15 to Blüdhaven.
    • In "Draw Back Your Bow", Oliver himself gets handcuffed to the tracks by Cupid, who's planning to die along with him. Oliver dislocates his thumb to pull his hand free of the cuffs and hauls them both off the track Just in Time.
  • As the World Turns: Played completely straight when Gwen's stalker and doppelganger ties her and Jade to the railroad tracks in order to Murder the Hypotenuse and romance Gwen's husband Will.
  • The A-Team once did this to a perp in "Bullets and Bikinis". In order to get Councilman Prescott to sign a paper they tied him to railway tracks at the end of a tunnel. He wouldn't talk at first, but soon he noticed a train approaching from the far end of the tunnel and signed it, only for Hannibal to leave him tied to the tracks. Of course it was then revealed that the oncoming train was just Murdock on a bike, complete with a high-powered lamp, a fake chimney and a tape player with train sound effects.
  • Parodied in The Avengers (1960s) episode "The Gravediggers", in which Mrs Peel is tied to the tracks of a miniature railway.
  • Used, inevitably in the old Adam West/Burt Ward Batman (1966) series. It is claimed that, in keeping with their different status (hero vs sidekick) Batman was chained to a larger gauge railway than Robin was.
  • Played straight (but only the trope!) in an episode of the German series Bernd Das Brot. Openly declared in the credits as a homage to the old silent movies.
  • Casseta And Planeta has a sketch where they are tied to railroad tracks, but the train stops because of a railroad workers' strike.
  • Parodied in a sketch on Dave Allen at Large: a villain ties the heroine to the railroad tracks and leaves her to be run over by "the Flying Scotsman". In this case, 'the Flying Scotsman' turns out to be a kilted Scotsman with wings strapped to his arms.
  • The Doctor Blake Mysteries: This is what the kidnapper plans to do to his victim if the ransom is not paid in "Lucky Numbers". His wording is how Lucien realises that she is being held in the railway yards.
  • In the Even Stevens episode "Louis in the Middle", Tawny pretends to be tied to a miniature railroad while Alan attempts to run her over with a train in an effort to shake Louis out of his 'hero syndrome' mindset.
  • Happens as an imagination spot in the Episode 'Lights, Camera, Distraction' of the Disney Show Jessie. Jessie (Debby Ryan) is trying to finish a movie for a film festival and in one scene Zuri Ross imagines herself as the mustaches twirling villain and Jessie as the Damsel In Distress tied to a railway with a lot of rope. She mentions that she will be saved by her hero (Tony played by Chris Gayla) but Zuri has him too tied to the railroad tracks. The imagination spot then ends after Jessie admits to evil Zuri her plan worked.
  • In a fifth-season episode of Legends of Tomorrow, the Gary Green native to 2018 is rescued by the Legends in 1874, causing 2020 Gary to develop a fear of trains.
  • The theme re-appeared in television cop drama Longmire Season 1 Episode 8, in which a cult leader conspires to send all his 12 young female followers to 'rebirth' by means of running over their drugged bodies with a train passing nearby his compound. 11 of the cultists volunteer by consuming a draught of narcotic and laying down on the tracks, but one of them is unwilling, and is tied to the tracks with barbed wire. The plot is discovered by the titular hero when he realizes the import of a mural on the wall of the cult compound. The damsels are saved from the onrushing train at the last possible moment.
  • Subverted in an episode of MacGyver (1985): MacGyver and an old man he is protecting are knocked out and tied to a railroad track by the villain; however, the railroad track is just a film studio prop, and the purpose is to scare the old man (who suffers from a heart condition) into having a heart attack.
  • Married... with Children had an episode where Al briefly hoped Peggy would be "accidentally" tied to railroad tracks but commented that she'd end up flipping the train.
  • Midnight Sun (2016): In episode 4, some miners receive a video of a young man chained to a railway as a train approaches.
  • One episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus starts off with the "camel spotting" sketch (a thinly disguised trainspotter claims to be watching for camels), which is interrupted when several one-shot characters steal the camel-spotter's catchphrase, "you're no fun any more", prompting him to threaten the next person who uses it with being tied up and thrown under a camel (here to be read as "train"). Later in the episode, the "embezzlement" sketch ends with one of the characters inadvertently using the phrase, causing him to appear and carry out his earlier threat.
  • Parodied in a The Muppet Show sketch where Miss Piggy was tied to a track by a Snidely Whiplash like character. Wayne appears as the hero, but forgets about saving Piggy when he recognizes the villain as a fellow boy scout from his youth. Instead, Wayne advises the villain on how to tie knots restraining her properly and leave as friends. Luckily, Piggy escapes by rising her to her feet and literally tearing off the section of track she is tied to.
  • In "Escape from New York" from Resident Alien, Harry Vanderspeigle mentions this to Asta Twelvetrees, asking why they have to ride on the Amtrak train for two days. He says that if somebody were to tie a lady to the tracks, that if they tied her lengthwise, it could derail them. She tells them that it could, but it won't, "because this isn't a silent movie, Harry."
  • Parodied in Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Sabrina even does the scream-and-struggle seizure, but quickly stops as she realizes that screaming is pretty pointless if you're in a silent movie. Watch.
  • Done as an opening sketch on the Australian kids science show Scope on the episode devoted to trains.
  • This is done in a Thunderbirds episode titled 'The Perils of Penelope'. Penelope wasn't actually bound to any rails, but she was bound to a ladder that was stretched out right in the path of the approaching Anderbad Express Monotrain.
  • Played straight in the long-lost 1952 Bob Clampett-created children's' puppet show Thunderbolt The Wondercolt (a heroic horse), which featured an episode where Thunderbolt's friends Speedy Turtle and Chipper Chipmunk are tied to the railroad tracks by the villain Willy the Wolf, as a train approaches. They try signaling with a mirror, which luckily grabs Thunderbolt's attention. The train is actually treated as a huge menace, complete with the locomotive designed to resemble a World War II fighter plane (complete with the shark-style markings). Thunderbolt arrives at the last minute, stops the train cold (presumably by derailing it), and frees his friends.
  • In one episode of Brazilian show TV Colosso, a producer working for the fictional network had been tied to railroad tracks. The reason her captors did it to her was to force the train out of the tracks.

  • Spoofed in one Old Master Q strip. A stereotypical Dastardly Whiplash-looking villain is busy tying a woman on a set of tracks when Master Q, passing by, asks if he's waiting for a train. When the villain responds with a "well, duh" Master Q instead tells him the railroads have been shut down five years ago and the tracks are no longer in use.

  • In Let Dai, Dai does this to Jaehee after he considers him to have spurned his love.

  • The traditional Call-and-Response Song "Bill Grogan's Goat" has Bill tying his goat to railroad tracks as punishment for eating three red shirts off his clothesline. Interestingly, the goat coughs up the shirts and flags the train in time.
  • Chicago's 1974 TV special "Meanwhile Back At The Ranch" is filled with old silent movie gags. One has a gender flip of this, with guitarist Terry Kath being tied up on the tracks by the villain, Anne Murray.
  • Parodied in the song "Along Came Jones", first a hit for The Coasters and later covered by Ray Stevens. The song tells of a man who is watching TV when he sees three different shows in which a Damsel in Distress is held by a villain, and rescued at the last second by the Invincible Hero Jones. In the third verse, the damsel is tied to a railroad track.
  • "Brand New Friend" by LLoyd Cole and the Commotions: The dysfunctional pair countless times "swore and lied that we'd tie ourself to the railway line", but they were all mouth.
  • The Sue Fink song "Damsel in Distress" parodies this and the concept of the Damsel in Distress in general. (Video here.)
  • In the music video for A Flock of Seagulls' "Heartbeat Like A Drum", a woman is tied down to railroad tracks in the fashion of an old-time film, but surprisingly the train merely passes right over her, showing the whole thing to be an optical illusion.
  • No Doubt's song "Excuse Me Mr." has singer Gwen Stefani sing about being tied to the tracks waiting for rescue in the song's bridge. In the music video she ties herself up and her bandmates secure her to the tracks as a train approaches. Stefani stands up, unbinds herself, and walks to safety as the song segues into the final choruses.
  • The music video for Don't Stop by Patrick and Eugene has one of the duo play a bad guy who ties a woman to the train tracks, and the other tries to stop him. It doesn't end well.
  • Featured in the third part of "Zorro est arrivé", a French comedy song by Henry Salvador, based on "Along Came Jones".
  • Taylor Swift winds up tied to the railroad tracks by a villain in the video for "Mean". She gets away in the end, though.
  • The 1930's music hall song No! No! A thousand times no!! has the Dastardly Whiplash tying the damsel to the tracks after she emphatically refuses (via the Title Drop) his advances.

  • Snidely Whiplash ties Nell to the railroad tracks in one of the animated scenes from The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends
  • Implied by "Polly Peril" mode in Cactus Canyon. The player must make five ramp shots to rescue Miss Polly before the train crosses the playfield, but we never sees her tied to the tracks.
    Miss Polly: I'm tied to the track and I can't get up!

    Print Media 
  • Parodied in The Onion's faux historical retrospective Our Dumb Century, with an ad for a railway company claiming to feature "fewer mustache-twirling villains tying golden-haired maidens to our tracks" than any of its competitors, as such events are quite an inconvenience to passengers.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • The No Way Out poster for 2012 had Daniel Bryan be the victim of this at the hands of former love interest A.J. Lee The coloring of the poster and the costumes of both played up the melodramatic stereotype of the act.

    Video Games 
  • Played in Final Fantasy VIII with the optional GF Doomtrain. Literally flaming tracks appear after barriers appear on either side of the enemies and the background morphs into unintelligible space vortex-y swirly things. Then you see his light…um…light up and see him zooming down the tracks at a rate of knots, and seconds before contact is made it zooms in to give you a shot of his demon face before he slams through the enemies, and before long all returns to normal and the enemies receive damage and a huge number of additional status affects. You can see all of this here.
  • Gunfighter: The Legend of Jesse James have Jesse's girlfriend, Zee, kidnapped by the villain Jack Carson and tied on railroad tracks. One stage is a lengthy battle on a locomotive as Jesse fights his way past Carson's mooks to the front of the locomotive in order to make it stop.
  • In one of the cutscenes of Line Rider 2: Unbound, Chaz captures Bailey and ties her to a railroad where a train happens to be passing by. Bosh hears Bailey's screams and, taking notice of the situation, runs to the swings he was using and uses them to make some skis for him to use. Thanks to this, Bosh is able to change the sign to redirect the train to the railroad where Chaz happens to be standing on, causing him to be run over and allowing Bosh to untie Bailey from the railroad.
  • In Nancy Drew: The Haunted Carousel, the villain arranges for Nancy to get her foot trapped between the rails of a roller coaster's tracks, and she must free herself before being splattered by the oncoming train of cars.
  • To get the achievement "Dastardly" in Red Dead Redemption, you have to tie up a female NPC and watch her get run over by a train. This actually caused a minor kerfluffle over the net because the video that first showed it just happened to use a nun as the victim, and many people assumed that was part of the achievement.
  • This trope makes an appearance in Runescape where the player has to rescue one of the goblins who is tied to a railway.
    • The player saved more than just the goblin; if Zanik were to have been run over, it would have started a war between the Dorgeshuun and the Dwarfs (who built the train) which was exactly what Sigmund (the villain) planned.
  • When you first enter the Western room of Stay Tooned!, Pixel and Chisel tie Fiddle to a railroad track just outside a tunnel. To save Fiddle, you must build a wall using the bricks next to it to stop the train. The outcome is random; Sometimes the train crashes through the brick wall and runs over Fiddle anyway, sometimes the train goes the other way and runs Fiddle over, and sometimes Scoops saves Fiddle by eating the rope (and his fur).
  • Happens in "The Khallos Express", a 70s Bond-parody level in TimeSplitters Future Perfect where your sidekick's partner/girlfriend had been captured and tied to the tracks. After beating the boss, they manage to stop the train...nowhere near close to hitting her.
  • Starlo does this as one of his trials in Undertale Yellow. Even if it's a fake train, his team are unsurprisingly NOT okay with the whole ordeal and take it out on Clover, before quitting Starlo entirely.
  • In the original Way of the Samurai, the main character can end up tied to a railroad track if the player makes some bad decisions early on. It's also possible to get yourself killed this way by refusing the rescue attempt.

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner: In the unfinished cartoon "Those Darn Cousins", Homestar's little cousins Preshy and Rafferty torture him when no one else is around. At one point, they tie him to railroad tracks.
    Preshy: I love you, Homestar.
    Homestar: I have a hard time believing that.
  • hololive: In one episode of Fuwamoco Morning, the Pero Sighting (fan made photoshopped pictures of Fuwamoco's mascot, Pero) showed him tied to train tracks, with the train dangerously close. This lead to a few episodes with no Pero Sighting, to the worry of the twins, until it was revealed he was fine and had just went on vacation.


    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • This happens to Doc and a couple of guest characters (one of them a child) in the Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers episode "Fire and Iron".
  • Arthur: In "Kiss and Tell", D.W. sees a scene on TV at the mall where a woman in this predicament is rescued by a man and she kisses him afterward, which inspires her to try and recreate a similar scenario with James.
  • Back to the Future: The Animated Series: In "A Friend in Deed", Thaddeus Tannen, who extorted the deed out of the Parker family, tied Genevieve Parker to the tracks and insisted Wendell sign over their land to him before he'd untie her. After her husband signs it, Tannen runs off with the deed and leaves her tied up anyway.
  • It also appeared in Batman: The Animated Series where a one-shot villain who specialized in nigh-unescapable death traps to extract information from his victims used a woman tied to the tracks as bait for Batman. The woman turns out to be a hologram. The villain laughs at Batman for thinking he would have really done it.
  • Happens to Batman in the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Emperor Joker!".
  • In The Beatles episode "I Feel Fine," movie hero Dick Dashing challenges Paul to perform the same stunts he usually does. One stunt has co-star Bridget Buildup tied to a railroad track with Paul trying to untie her before the train gets there. Paul simply holds his hand out to show the train was a cardboard prop. Later in the sequence, Dick Dashing attempts the same stunt, only he and Bridget get flattened by an actual train.
  • Shows up in the Miscellaneous Disney Short The Brave Engineer, where Casey Jones saves a woman who was tied up on the tracks by a stereotypical villain character in one of the unending string of delays he faces.
  • Happens to Scoutmaster Lumpus on Camp Lazlo after he is captured by the clowns of Slapstick Mountain.
  • In Cordell Barker's cartoon adaptation of The Cat Came Back (see trope), old Mr. Johnson drives a handcar over no fewer than seven (if not more) bound women and a cow, before derailing on a beetle.
  • Parodied in the CatDog episode "Silents Please!". CatDog saves a woman tied to the railroad tracks, but it is revealed that this is part of a filming set. Cat puts her back to the railroad tracks and leaves, while she gets run over by the train.
  • In the ChalkZone episode "Mellow Drama Falls", the villain is of the Dastardly Whiplash persuasion and not only ties a woman to railroad tracks, but also tries to light a trail of gunpowder on fire and tie Penny to a log that's headed towards a spinning blade.
  • A variant in the Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers episode, "Last Train to Cashville"; Fat Cat's henchmen steal a toy train to assist Fat Cat in a bank heist. When the Rescue Rangers track him down, Fat Cat captures Chip, Gadget, and Monterey, ties them up in a leash, and puts them on the train tracks so that the toy train can run them over. However, he soon decides against it, thinking it more fun to feed Chip, Gadget, and Monty to a hungry snake instead.
  • Used in the Count Duckula episode "A Mountie Always Gets His Duck" where the villain (A French Canadian with a Scottish accent) ties Duckula's friend's fiancée to a railway line. Nanny inadvertently saves them all by walking directly in front of the train and wrecking it.
  • In the episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog, where the three-headed son of the Chicken from Outer Space attempted to avenge his father's death by destroying Courage, one of his attempts was this, however, Courage managed to save himself by using a track switch, which two of the heads wondered why they included in the plan.
    • Courage also has a fantasy of the Chicken doing this to Muriel in the Pilot.
  • Lampshaded in an episode of Darkwing Duck where the villainess does just this to Darkwing and Launchpad. DW lectures her for resorting to such and old cliché, but is forced to admit that while not terribly original, tying someone to a railroad track is indeed effective.
  • Referenced in the Davey and Goliath episode "The Caretakers", when Davey and Goliath take a hike on train tracks. But then Davey decides to pretend he's a damsel in distress tied to the tracks and starts making "clackety-clack" train noises, and thus cannot hear an actual freight train speeding towards him. Luckily Goliath pulls Davey off the tracks just in time.
  • Parodied in Dudley Do-Right, where the villain Snidely Whiplash is found to have this "thing" about tying ladies to railroad tracks. In one episode it's treated almost as a creepy, fetish-like obsession stemming from his lonely childhood. (Incidentally, he at one time not only tied three women to railroad tracks — including Nell — but also a man, Horse, Inspector Fenwick... and himself.)
  • This is how one Earthworm Jim episode opens; Jim and Peter Puppy are tied to a railroad, implied to be a consequence of switching bodies (but not heads) because Peter can't use Jim's super suit very well. Psycrow, meanwhile, is driving an express at them. Jim manages to get back inside the suit, free them, and bend the tracks so they're pointing up. The train is sent flying up, Psycrow falls out ("Maximum suckage.") and Jim and Peter walk off to have their bodies fixed. Then the train falls on Psycrow. Later on in the episode he still has the train on his back.
  • In the Eek! The Cat episode "Cape Fur", the Killer Rabbit sees JB playing with a toy train in his room, so he eventually ties him up to the railroad tracks and turns the train on. As the train is about to hit JB, he cries for help. The titular Eek hears JB's crying, so he goes up to his room and unties him, but unfortunately, Mom comes up and sees both of them, and after untying JB, Eek gets hit by the train, and then his family locks him in a cage for punishment.
  • The Fairly OddParents!:
    • Done in episode "The Good Old Days", a parody of old-timey cartoons. An old-timey version of Vicky is the bad guy, and she has Timmy's Grandpappy tied up. She attempts to put him on the train tracks, but it is crowded with similar villains. ("Beat it, Buster! We're working this side of the street!") She opts for a Conveyor Belt o' Doom at the local sawmill.
    • There was also a scene in the series pilot from Oh Yeah! Cartoons, in which Vicky was tied on railroad tracks, with Cosmo as the train, Wanda as the engineer, and Timmy as the old-timey villain (complete with black top hat and mustache!)
    • Timmy, as the Masked Magician, once saved Vicky from railroad tracks and asked her who tied her there in the first place. Since she failed to see the one(s) responsible, she instead listed the people she believed to hate her to that point. The list was so long Timmy wouldn't stay around to hear it all.
    • Parodied in "This is Your Wish", during a clip in which Cosmo ties Timmy and Wanda to a set of train tracks. Fortunately, Cosmo switches the train away from them every time it comes close to running them over. It later turned out that the track Timmy and Wanda were tied to was never connected to the tracks the train was on the first place... and that it was on some quicksand.
  • Parodied in the Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends episode "Fair Weather Friends", where Berry tried to do this to Mac, only with a toy train set.
  • George of the Jungle:
    • Tom Slick once entered a train race where the villain had tied Marigold to make Tom stop.
    • A Super Chicken episode has a melodrama villain actor believing he actually was a villain — naturally, he takes the damsel actress to all the usual spots — the railroad tracks, the sawmill, and the dynamite shack.
  • Huckleberry Hound is a truant officer sent retrieve two recalcitrant twin boys. He humors them by letting them tie him to a toy railroad track, only he gets run over by a real train.
  • An episode of Jimmy Two-Shoes has Heloise having a Dream Sequence involving being tied to the tracks, only to be rescued by Jimmy.
  • A mass version of this trope is used in Book Four The Legend of Korra to make An Offer You Can't Refuse. Kuvira uses metalbending to attach a group of bandits' wrists to a set of train tracks. Either they take the chance for "rehabilitation" and pledge their allegiance to her, or she'll simply leave them behind. They take the offer.
  • Parodied in numerous Looney Tunes cartoons, including Bob Clampett's "The Big Snooze", in which Elmer Fudd (who's dressed as a woman) is tied to the tracks by Bugs Bunny and the "Super Chief" runs right over him — the "Super Chief" being a long line of little bunnies following Bugs, who's wearing a feathered headdress. Other cartoon-inspired versions include the train running over the bad guy who may or may not even be standing on the tracks, or derailing into a pile of twisted steel, leaving the tied-up person without a scratch.
    • One toon ended with Bugs tied to the tracks by Crusher (the wrestler antagonist) and is just about to be run over by the train...when the film is literally cut abruptly stopping the cartoon. One guess as to who did it.
    • This was also subverted in Looney Tunes: Back in Action, when the Evil ACME Chairman, among one of the many classic tricks for D.J.'s father Damian to meet his doom, ties Damian to the railroad tracks, where the streamlined ACME Train of Death is hurtling towards him. If that doesn't kill him, the surrounding dynamite would. (Wile E. Coyote is also driving the train.) However, Damian is saved in the nick of time, and the train eventually crashes (thanks to it running into some dynamite).
  • In Marvel's Spider-Man, Peter does this to himself accidentally. During a fight in the subway, he gets knocked into a tunnel wall — and the impact damages his web-shooter, pinning him there with webbing just as a train approaches. He uses the other shooter to throw a lever that makes the train change tracks.
  • Played straight on at least two instances in the Mega Man (Ruby-Spears) cartoon. Since he was a robot, he was electrified to the rail rather than tied.
  • Parodied in a segment on Mickey Mouseworks, in which Peg Leg Pete kidnaps Minnie (apparently in a series of segments parodying the old "damsel in distress" cliches), and ties her to a set of railroad tracks. Unfortunately, Mickey's not that good at untying knots, so before long, both of them are tied to the track, just as railroad crossing signals begin flashing. Pete's driving the train, which consists of a large diesel locomotive and several passenger cars. But right before the train can run over them, Mickey manages to hit a switch conveniently located in front of them, and the train goes up this other track into a tunnel ("I KNEW I shouldn't have put in that second set of tracks!" Pete curses). Mickey and Minnie manage to get off the tracks, still tied up. The train then speeds by again, going the opposite direction, managing to cut the ropes and free our heroes.
  • Mighty Mouse actually succumbs to this at the behest of Oil Can Harry. Mighty Mouse stops the entire train with his feet as he tries to extricate himself.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Pinkie Pie has an Imagine Spot of this happening to her. Notably, this may well be the first instance of the trope where both victim and perpetrator are actually on the train.
  • The New Adventures of Superman: In "Luminians on the Loose", Luthor leaves Jimmy Olsen on the tracks where the express is scheduled to come shortly.
  • Parodied in Ninjago, when Jay poses as a damsel in distress to find out the identity of Samurai X, AKA Nya.
  • Numb Chucks: In "Hunk O Chuck", Fungus is Mistaken for Dying. To help him cross something off his Bucket List, Dilweed kidnaps Burford and dresses him as a woman before tying him to the railway track so Fungus can fulfill his ambition of rescuing a damsel who has been tied to railroad. Hilarity Ensues.
  • The Perils of Penelope Pitstop. It even features in the credits.
  • Parodied in a Pinky and the Brain episode set during the silent film era. The Brain's latest scheme involves becoming a silent film star, and he and Pinky make a movie featuring this trope. However Pinky's cut of the film is hilariously bad, typecasting the duo into comedy forever.
  • In Popeye, this was Bluto's very first method of capturing Olive. When he tied her up with the tracks, Olive Oyl would pull her arms out of the constricting tracks to wave and holler, then put them back into the tracks. How does Popeye save her? By punching the train into scrap with one blow!
    • Also affected in "Cartoons Ain't Human" and "She-Sick Sailors." The former was Popeye's homemade cartoon with a stereotypical Dastardly Whiplash, the latter had Bluto impersonating Superman who does this after his navy cap gives him away to Olive.
    • In "Take It Easel" (Brodax era), Brutus paints a railroad and ties Popeye to it as the 5:15 train roars towards him. Popeye paints a can of spinach and sets things right.
  • Happened to The Powerpuff Girls (1998) with a Homage to a silent movies in the episode "Slave the Day". But a train is eventually stopped by Big Billy of the Gangreen Gang wrongly saving them.
  • A Cartoon Network Groovies interstitial, "El Kabong Rides Again", starred Quick Draw McGraw as El Kabong thwarting a Mexican bandito named El Honcho Macho who has tied his love interest, Baba Looey, and members of a Dia de Muertos band to a railroad track. El Kabong uses a huge metal guitar to smash the train to pieces. For bonus points, since El Honcho was riding the train, he is sent flying. Music by Calexico.
  • Two episodes in Rambo: The Force of Freedom feature this kind of peril. There's at least gender equality because one features a female and one features a man.
  • In the second of the Roger Rabbit Shorts, made after the success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Roger and Baby Herman end up on a roller coaster. Out of nowhere, about half way through the skit, Jessica Rabbit turns up tied to the roller coaster by Droopy wearing a top hat and big mustache. After passing this Roger and Herman even give an Aside Glance because of how random this is.
  • In the Secret Squirrel cartoon "Catty Corned" a particularly nasty dog does this to a scientist's cat whom he thought had swallowed some explosives, and the dog was trying to find ways to set off the explosives with Secret and Morocco thwarting his attempts.
  • Parodied on The Simpsons in The Itchy and Scratchy Movie, in which Itchy does just this to Scratchy - however, Itchy discovers that the engineer won't let him in the engine of the train without proper training. So Itchy goes to college, passes his exams, gets his degree, finds a job as an engineer at a railway, and proudly rides the train right over Scratchy (who, being the poor luckless bastard that he is, had almost managed to free himself in the meantime before fate caught up with him).
  • The above-quoted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles episode has Bebop and Rocksteady doing this to Splinter. Of course, Splinter is eventually saved and the train winds up destroyed (thanks to Rocksteady cutting the brakes.)
  • In the 1948 Tom and Jerry short "Kitty Foiled", Tom ties Jerry to a toy railroad track. The mouse is saved by the canary, who bombs the toy railway with a bowling ball, smashing straight through the floor and dispatching the onrushing train into the basement.
  • Totally Spies!: In "The Fugitives", Clover has an Imagine Spot of Mandy being tied up on railroad tracks as a train approaches her.
  • The 2 Stupid Dogs finale, which takes the form of a monochrome 20s cartoon, ends with the dogs leaving the damsel in distress on the track when even after being saved just before all she does is yell for help.
  • The Venture Bros. features a memorable moment where "classic" villain The Red Death knocks out the up-and-comer Blind Rage attempting to blackmail him and wakes him up tied to the tracks of a subway. Red Death then proceeds to lecture his victim on the merits of the process: Its relatively cheap costs, assured lethality, the terror that comes with the growing anticipation of an oncoming train, plus the minor Hope Spot of last-second escape. We never see if Blind Rage survived or not, but his odds weren't exactly great.
  • Played straight in X-Men: The Animated Series with Jubilee tied up on the subway tracks. It was only a mental image of Jubilee implanted in Wolverine's mind so he'd get splatted trying to save her, though.

    Real Life 


Video Example(s):


Roller Coaster Rabbit

During Roger Rabbit and Baby Herman's roller coaster ride, Jessica Rabbit appears out of nowhere tied down to the roller coaster tracks, pleading for help. As Roger reaches his arms for her, the car tumbles right over her, nearly missing her in the process. Droopy is then revealed to be behind this act, as he remarks "Curses, foiled again" during his on-screen cameo in the short.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / ChainedToARailway

Media sources: