Characters in possession of a ranged weapon and with Improbable Aiming Skills are likely to shoot the lever from afar. Alternatively, one could just throw a large object at the switch to get the job done. Or, if the switch is close enough, you could just smack it as it passes by.
In fiction, these solutions almost always work. In real life, however, things are a bit more complicated. Shooting a railroad switch might just break it instead of flipping it.
- Three instances occur during Aardman Animations' The Wrong Trousers, all during the Chase Scene while The Villain attempts to escape aboard Wallace's model railroad:
- Feathers shoots away the doggie door, which will allow the model locomotive to carry him outside. Gromit is riding atop the trailing cars, and alertly smacks the Big Red Button that shunts the locomotive onto a spur line, keeping Feathers indoors.
- Feathers fires his eighth shot from a revolver at another track switch that shunts the last car, which Wallace is riding, onto another line.
- Feathers uncouples the engine and tender from the rest of the train, then whacks a third switch to shunt the trailing cars with Gromit atop them onto another spur, which is incomplete. Fortunately, Gromit seizes a box of track sections and builds more track as he goes to continue the pursuit.
- Judy Hopps from Zootopia sees the subway car with the nighthowler lab being on the same track as an inbound locomotive that bears a resemblance to a charging rhino. Judy promptly kicks one mook leaning out the broken windshield into a shunting switch that rerails her car onto a disused line that ends at the history museum.
- In the Casey Jr. short from Disney's The Reluctant Dragon, Casey comes face-to-face with a diesel engine approaching him at a high speed from the other side of the tracks. Casey alerts the switch lever, which is sentient, and it wakes up and switches the diesel away from Casey just in time.
- During the mine cart chase in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, one set of Thuggee ... thugs shoots a switch to get themselves onto a safer track.
- During the climactic train chase in Paddington 2, Paddington is left stranded in the train's rear which Phoenix decouples, sending it on a dead-end track by hitting the railroad switch with a rod when passing it by. Watch the scene here.
- In the Due South episode "All The Queen's Horses", Sergeant Frobisher is able to reroute a train by shooting the switch stand.
- Used in the mine cart rooms in The Legend of Zelda: Oracle Games when Link has to either whack the switch with his sword or hit it from afar with one of his ranged weapons.
- The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks:
- The Minecart Madness version is seen in the Fire Temple. One of which involves moving two minecarts simultaneously (one for Link, one for the boss key) and therefore activating the switches for two separate tracks while in motion. Thankfully, the game shows you which switches to hit, it's up to the player to remember which ones.
- Averted with the Spirit Train itself (the main form of transportation): While the player can switch tracks while the train is moving, the train doesn't really move fast enough for it to be a problem, the map shows you where the train will go (including when the tracks branch off) and progress can be made automatically by charting a course on the map.
- Star Fox 64: Used as both a game mechanic and mission objective in the Macbeth level, which requires Fox to use the Landmaster tank to shoot all eight rail switches, in order to reroute the enemy supply train into their own depot. Failure to do so results in an Skippable Boss fight.
- Sword of Mana: The abandoned mine is a Minecart Madness level where you have to do this several times to reach the boss and advance the plot.
- Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage!: Occurs several times during the trolley mission in Breeze Harbor, where you have to also collect 50 gears while avoiding blocks, gaps, and TNT.
- This occurs at the opening sequence of Assassin's Creed: Syndicate. One of the Mooks reroutes the rails so that they lead to a cliff in order to get rid of Jacob Frye who was still on it. The driver attempts to stop the train but it's too late and he gets killed in the fall. Jacob barely escapes.
- Uncharted: The Lost Legacy: Upon discovering Asav's plan to blow up a bomb in the middle of a city in order to fuel his civil war, Chloe and Nadine board the train they're on to stop it. However, they discover that the bomb can't be defused and the engine has been completely welded shut, so Chloe steals one of their jeeps and rides ahead to swap out the track, rerouting the train towards a collapsed bridge, and saving the city as well.
- Deliver Us the Moon has a Timed Mission where you have to save a Runaway Train from crashing by switching tracks via keyboard commands.
- In the Thomas the Tank Engine episode "Busy Going Backwards", Toad the Brake Van wishes he could go forward instead of backward. The Troublesome Trucks grant his wish by breaking away from Oliver as he makes it to the top of Gordon's Hill. With no conductor to stop him due to having jumped clear, the signalmen take action by switching the points to avoid having the runaway Toad crash into other engines. Toad eventually comes to a stop when he is directed into a muddy pond.
- In the Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! episode "Decoy for a Dognapper", the Villain of the Week sends Scooby on a ride down the train tracks on a rail car, which naturally puts him in danger of getting run over. while Shaggy pumps desperately to keep them ahead of the locomotive, Fred backtracks to the switch, reroutes the rail car to a sideline, and switches it back just in time to save them.
- Slugterra: While pulling a Train Job in "Mario Bravado", Eli pulls off a trick shot to switch the path of Pronto's wagon off the main line and on to a spur. However, the spur leads to a dead end, forcing Mario to pull off an even more impressive trick shot to open the lock and free the prisoners before the wagon crashes.
- This happens in Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers' Five-Episode Pilot "To the Rescue" during the climactic escape scene: The Rangers re-route Klordane's underground steam train by putting a screw nut on Dale's head and throwing him at a switch signal from the running train. When chipmunk and nut hit the thin piece of sheet metal that's the switch signal, they've still got enough inertia to throw the switch.
- In the Rocko's Modern Life episode "Manic Mechanic", Heffer speeds out of control in reverse when he takes Rocko's car for a test drive after his, Rocko's, and Filburt's attempts to fix it. At one point, Heffer gets onto a set of train tracks and is being chased by a train. When Rocko and Filburt catch up to him on Filburt's motor scooter, they come to a switch, and change the points to divert Heffer away from the train.
- In the Trolls: TrollsTopia episode "Cakes on a Train", this is what Branch said must be urgently done after he found out that the brakes were forgotten while recreating the Metroll train, since the railway infrastructure was still unfinished. The others, who were more worried about the Perfection Cake that the train was carrying, tried to find an alternative until they finally complied and changed the way to give out the cake.
- The Trolley Problem is an ethical thought experiment defined in 1967. In the original setting, a runaway trolley approaches a switch, and will kill five people if it stays on its current track. If the test subject switches the trolley to a sidetrack, the trolley kills one person instead. In the 2000s it became widespread as a mental exercise and later as a meme. It is also an illustration of machine ethics, relevant to the rise of self-driving cars. Related to Three Laws-Compliant robots.
- In 2003, an empty runaway train in Melbourne was on a collision course with an in-service train full of passengers. A failed attempt to slow the runaway by cutting the power on the electric lines leaves the two trains within two minutes of disaster, leaving the controllers with no option but to send the in-service train onto the opposing line, then quickly swap the junction points back. Owing to the runaway's high speeds, and the indication computer showing both trains on the same line, the controllers thought they failed and killed everyone on the in-service train. But then the driver reported his train safe, with the runaway having passed by within one second of the junction's reset.