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Racing the Train

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"He saw the train
And tried to duck it
Kicked first the gas
And then the bucket"

Since the invention of rail transportation, manufacturers have always strived to make train engines faster and faster. Near the beginning of the 20th century it was already sort of common to see locomotives capable of doing 150 km/h, and in 2016 it's perfectly normal to ride a train that does at least 300 km/h like the Japanese Shinkansen or the French TGV. Now then, suppose you've got a speedster... let's call him Steve. There are many ways you can show off a character's powers — guys with Super Strength can lift buses, gals with Flight can jump off tall buildings and not plummet to their deaths, guys with Heart can... uh... that's not important. But what can good ol' Steve Speedster do? Race the fastest train of his time, that's what!

Basically, someone shows off how fast they (or their Pimped-Out Car) are by running parallel to, or if they're particularly cocky, in front of a train. It goes without saying that this is a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad idea in Real Life. Trains are heavier than you, they're most likely faster than you, and they have so much momentum that it can take them miles to come to a full stop. Even if the operator sees an obstruction (like some idiot trying to beat the train to the crossing), he cannot prevent the train from hitting the obstacle and will most likely end up completely pulverizing it in the process, while the train suffers little damage, if any at all. Needless to say, if an idiot attempts to do this... and winds up dead, they will get nothing more for their trouble than a Darwin Award nomination for their stupidity.



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  • Burma-Shave had a rhyme that is the page quote.
  • A silent PSA showed several men in a car racing a train, while a man gambled with the Grim Reaper. It doesn't end well.
  • Operation: Lifesaver: The public safety awareness campaign's "These are the next 60 seconds of your life..." series of commercials often depicted the consequences of racing a train, always with deadly results. One common example showed a Volkswagen Cabriolet, filled with five teen-agers joyriding, speeding and trying to race an oncoming train to the crossing; needless to say, they didn't make it and the community where they lived was thrown into sudden and deep mourning.
  • Dumb Ways to Die listed "Drive around the boom gates at a level crossing" as one of the Dumbest Ways to Die.

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Hayate the Combat Butler, the title butler winds up taking Nishizawa to the Shimoda hot springs using her bike while the rest of the crew takes the train. At first Nishizawa remarks on the nice weather and the breeze before realizing that they are going waaay too fast. Hayate casually tells her that they caught up to the train and to wave to the others. Nishizawa hangs on for dear life and points out that they are ahead of the train. This was a bullet train mind you, and he's riding an ordinary bicycle. Apparently this is because he used to be a bike courier.
  • In one of the Choujin Olympics in Kinnikuman, Terryman had to race ahead of a train he himself had pushed as part of a qualifier round because a puppy had wandered onto the track. Saving the puppy meant stopping the train which, despite his heroism, got Terryman disqualified.
  • In Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, in the episode "Death Race 2010", the ghost Panty and Stocking were hunting eventually haunted a train. It was more like Fighting the Train.
  • Shute's first appearance in SD Gundam Force, mostly to show off his rocket skates to the audience. Justified in that he's a kid who's playing around.

    Comic Books 
  • In one issue of The Flash, Wally realizes that while he was fighting a supercriminal, his girlfriend was taking a train and leaving town. He then proceeds to run down the train, climb on board, and asks her to stay.
  • A few retellings of Superman discovering his powers as a youth (such as in 1974's Limited Collector's Edition #C-31) show him racing/outrunning an express train.
  • Back in the Golden Age Wonder Woman once raced to catch up with a train and climb in the window to join Steve Trevor on one of his espionage missions as she was concerned about him playing Honey Trap to a suspected Nazi spy.

    Film — Animated 
  • Cars: Lightning McQueen does it while trying to catch up to what he thinks is Mack.
    • An organization known as Operation Lifesaver, dedicated to saving lives at railroad crossings and on railroad property, asked Disney/Pixar to remove the scene in question from future airings, so as to not promote train-beating. Disney/Pixar obliged but the scene remains in the DVD releases.
  • The original cut of Thomas and the Magic Railroad had a variant of this in the introduction for P.T. Boomer where the train actually stops as the motorcyclist crosses it.

    Film — Live Action 
  • In Bet Your Life, Sonny is in a taxi cab being chased by Carmen on a motorbike. When Carmen starts shooting at him, he orders the cab to drive through a freight yard. Racing alongside a freight train, Sonny grabs the wheel from the driver and and wrenches the cab across the tracks in front of the train. The cab gets hit by the train, but Sonny and the driver manage to bail out on the far side, leaving Carmen stuck until the train finishes passing.
  • In the Harry Palmer film Bullet to Beijing, the protagonists have to catch up with the eponymous train at its next stop which is 300 miles away. They find a Russian cab driver and promise to pay him a fortune in American dollars if he can get there in time. He makes it, barely.
    • Another occurs in Billion Dollar Brain when Leo and Anya take the train to Leningrad carrying a deadly virus. Harry Palmer breaks out of the room he's in and get to the station too late, so they pursue in their car.
  • Occurs in the original The Fast and the Furious. Brian and Dom do this while also drag-racing against each other. They both make it.
  • The famous Chase Scene in The French Connection. After the gunman hops on an El train, Doyle hijacks a car and chases it.
  • In Hot Bot, Limus, Leonard and Bardot race alongside a freight train while being chased by Agents Frazier and Koontz. They make it to the crossing and cut across in front of the train, leaving the feds stranded.
  • A version of this happens in The Legend of Zorro when Alejandro's son does this with the horse, Tornado, is racing to catch up to the train.
  • Octopussy does this with a twist: Bond's tires have just been shot out, so he drives his car onto the rails.
  • Power Rangers (2017) has a short scene where the main characters are fleeing the cops (It Makes Sense in Context) and the only way out is to cut in front of a train. They don't make it, the car is completely totaled, and it's made pretty clear that the only reason they survived was their recently acquired superpowers.
  • Speed Zone has a scene where John Candy tries to cross some railroad tracks, but is forced to stop before the train arrives. Then the police chasing him show up and he races the train in reverse in an attempt to beat it. When he gets to the second crossing, he just makes it.
  • Stand by Me has the boys racing a train on foot. In this particular case, racing the train is possibly their best option (they're in the middle of a long railroad bridge when they're surprised by the train).
  • A young Clark Kent does this in the movie Superman: The Movie.
  • Happens in Torque when the chase scene between Trey and Ford is taken from top of a train to the front of it.

  • Clockwork Century. In Dreadnought, the Union armoured train Dreadnought finds itself being chased on a parallel track by the lightly-armed but much faster Confederate train Shenandoah which (in The Western tradition) tries to head them off at the pass (where the rail lines converge to cross the Rockies). Whoever succeeds can blow up the rail ahead of their opponent, who would be going to fast that the derailing would kill everyone on board.
  • Jennifer And Josephine: Salesman "Mr. Frenzy" refuses to wait for a train and races it to the crossing. Fortunately, he, Jennifer (the car), and Josephine (the cat who made a home there) manage to beat it, but it's a very close thing. Josephine wishes the near miss would teach Mr. Frenzy to take more care, but she knows that he'll most likely ignore the lesson.
  • The Railway Series has a few examples, appropriate for a series about trains. The most famous instance is in "Thomas and Bertie", where Thomas (an engine) races Bertie (a bus). Bertie's other major appearance, "Bertie's Chase" five books later, features Bertie making a spirited effort to catch up to Edward's train to make a missed connection. One last example happens in "Percy and Harold", where Percy manages to beat Harold the Helicopter as payback for Harold calling railways "slow and out of date."
  • In Raising Steam a journalist suggests that the new railway will terrify horses. Dick Simnel retorts that when he was working on his test engine, the horses seemed to enjoy racing it.
  • In Steam on the Line by Philip Turner, the young protagonist and his father see a horse and carriage racing against the then-new narrow gauge steam train. The protagonist is disappointed that the train didn't win. His father replies that that's not the point; what makes the steam locomotive superior is how much more weight it can shift compared to the horse.

    Live Action TV 
  • CSI: "Caged" opens with the Victim of the Week trying race a train to a level crossing in an attempt to stage a Train Escape to get away from the vehicle that is chasing her. Realising she is not going to make it, she slams on her brakes, only for the vehicle behind to ram her and force her into the train.
  • The Dukes of Hazzard: In at least one episode, the villians barely made it across a railroad crossing with a train coming, to escape pursuit by the Duke boys and the General Lee. Bo simply used a convenient ramp to jump over the train in eventually catching the baddies.
  • An episode of the 80's TV Cop Show Hunter had the title character jump onto a train traveling from Los Angeles to San Francisco in order to tail a suspect, with his partner DeeDee McCall having to chase after him by car to provide backup.
  • Jeeves and Wooster: Madeleine Bassett is travelling by train. Bertie tries to get to her destination before her in his Aston Martin. It overheats in a cloud of smoke.
  • Longmire: Longmire and his deputies must outrace a train to free someone who is Chained to a Railway.
  • In the short subject One Clear Chance it is clearly explained that if you get hit by a train, it's all your fault. Parodied beautifully on Mystery Science Theater 3000. "Why don't they look?"
  • Top Gear:
    • The show has used the format several times, with Jeremy Clarkson in a car vs. James May and Richard Hammond riding the train. In Europe the train was the Eurostar and TGV, and in Japan it was the Shinkansen.
    • As a Public Service Announcement, Clarkson showed just how stupid the idea of trying to race a train through a crossing was, by parking a car on the tracks and hitting it with a train.

  • Occurs in "Waitin' on Joe" by Steve Azar. The narrator is preparing for a workday with his brother, who is chronically late. Turns out that this day, Joe is late because of this trope ("He tried to beat that morning train / My life will never be the same").
  • Jason Michael Carroll, "I Can Sleep When I'm Dead":
    If there's somethin' goin' on within 100 miles of home, you're gonna hear my V8s ring
    Long as I can beat the train and they got a passing lane, baby, I ain't gonna miss a thing…
  • Cowboy Troy's "I Play Chicken with the Train".

    Video Games 
  • One of the robotic bosses of Contra: Hard Corps and Contra: Shattered Soldier makes his entrance by outrunning the train you're on, pushes it to a stop, lifts the end of it, then climbs on top. This turns out to be a bad idea in the end — upon defeat, he falls backwards off the front of the train, and gets hit by it!
    • And in Contra: Shattered Soldier, an Expy of said boss does the exact same thing, except that you're on a small train carriage which the boss lifts off the ground with ease.
  • Driver 2 has a mission in Las Vegas appropriately called "Beat The Train", where Tanner races to save a hostage locked in the trunk of a car on a railroad trestle.
  • Everything or Nothing, another Bond example. Here, you have to race a train that carries the kidnapped Dr. Nadanova. You can choose between the Porsche Cayenne Turbo or the Chimera.
  • One of Forza Horizon 4's Showcase events has you race an Ariel Nomad against the legendary Flying Scotsman. The remixed version, "Nine and Three Quarters", puts you in a tuned Ford Anglia.
  • A level in Gears 5 has Delta Squad racing to lower a bridge before an automated train carrying satellites for the Hammer of Dawn reaches the gap and derails.
  • Grand Theft Auto
    • The mission "Wrong Side of the Tracks" in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas involves you and Big Smoke trying to chase a train while on a dirt bike so that he can shoot the rival gang members atop the train.
    • A subversion in the prologue of Grand Theft Auto V when Michael, Trevor, and Brad were hit by a train at a crossing attempting to flee the police. And in the mission "Derailed" involves Trevor to chase and hijack a train while on a motorcycle. There's a shout out to San Andreas in order to get 100%, you have land on top of the train on the first jump. The said requirement is called "Better Than CJ".
  • Mario Kart
    • Kalimari Desert in Mario Kart 64 can have you do this, especially given how being forced to wait for the train to pass totally wastes a lot of time. So it means a lot of karts racing towards the level crossing as the train races by, and the odd too slow racer smashing right into it. You can also either literally try and outrun the train round the track (in the Nintendo 64 version) by racing ahead through the tunnel, while in Mario Kart 7, you can fly straight over it with a gliding ramp or just take a star/invincibility item and just go straight into the train, sending it flying into the air in the process.
    • Super Bell Subway in Mario Kart 8 has karts racing in an active subway line.
    • N64 Rainbow Road in Mario Kart 8 has a magical train that runs along the side of the racetrack, depositing coins.
  • In Mega Man X4, Slash Beast shows up to the Traintop Battle by running parallel up to, then jumping onto the train car used as his boss room when X or Zero get to it.
  • In Metro: Last Light, Artyom and Khan race after a freak show train taken by soldiers of the Red Line with a motorized railcar. The objective is to get Artyom on the train to rescue the last surviving Dark One, who's on a cage on board.
  • Piston Hondo does this in Punch-Out!! Wii in his backstory.
  • In Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time Murray frees the Cooper Van from the train they're attacking and drives it along side of it so that Sly Cooper can jump and escape.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog's titular character is famous for his speed, so naturally, he will occasionally have to outrun trains:
    • In Sonic Heroes, Rail Canyon Zone and Bullet Station Zone are set within a network of Dr. Eggman's supply trains. Occasionally, one (or more) of those trains will suddenly start moving in front of Sonic and the others, requiring them to outrun it, though if you're good at the Flight characters' hovering, you can just let the trains pass by without harming anyone.
    • Sonic mostly just runs through train crossings as the locomotives are passing by in the Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) stage Radical Train, though towards the end, Sonic encounters a runaway passenger train with a bomb attached to it that Sonic has to catch up to and disarm before it explodes.
    • In Sonic Free Riders, Rocky Ridge is an 18th-century mining town. One version of the racetrack has the racers travel along two sets of railroad tracks with steam locomotives sometimes traveling through, requiring the racers to dodge them as they appear.
  • Stuntman: And driving on it to boot.
  • In the "End of the Line" fan-made animation for Team Fortress 2, the RED Sniper and Scout use Sniper's camper van to chase a runaway train sent by BLU to destroy RED's base as soon as they see it scream by their railroad outpost. It doesn't last long and the van ends up precariously dangling off a cliff with Sniper still in it after it loses a wheel on a hard bump and veers into a cliffside building, but it lasts long enough for Scout to jump aboard.
  • In Uncharted 2: Among Thieves Elena speeds up next to a train in her jeep with Drake so that he can jump on it.
  • Jude of Wild ARMs 4 does this while riding a bicycle. The bike eventually breaks from the strain.

     Web Original 
  • Not Always Legal has a story where the submitter asks a judge what his worst regret was. Turns out, he once had to deal with a teenage girl who drove like crazy. He almost gave her jail time, but decided to be lenient and give her community service since she was so young. On the way home, she pulled this stunt and died.
  • Army Ranger turned fitness model Gregg Plitt met his end while filming a YouTube video of himself racing a train on foot.
  • Used in an anecdote from Bob and George creator Dave Anez in this strip's commentary. The author's grandfather was driving with the author's father, when the noticed that they were moving faster than a nearby train, and made a bet with the grandfather that they would beat the train to the next town. The grandfather took the bet, and then won by pulling over until the train reached the next town.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog
    • The "Sonic Says" segment for "High Stakes Sonic" has Scratch challenge Grounder to a race across a railway bridge. Grounder finds out that a train is about to cross the bridge, but Scratch ignores him, and the two robots race across the bridge. They only get halfway across the bridge by the time the train crosses, but jump off the bridge before the train can run them over. Sonic advises the viewers not to take dares like these.
    • In the episode, "Full-Tilt Tails", when Tails steps on a piece of speedamint gum, he becomes as fast as Sonic. He decides to show his newly-acquired speed to Sonic by racing a speeding train. However, when he gets ahead of the train, he gets stuck in the tracks, leading Sonic to rescue him.
  • Looney Tunes:
    • Wile E Coyote And The Roadrunner:
      • In the cartoon "Zipping Along," the establishing scene features the bird zipping along a train, although he leaves the road and never attempts to beat the train to the crossing.
      • The Road Runner's observation of safety is reprised in a later Operation:Lifesaver commercial aimed at children. In it, the Road Runner, despite his ability to put some extra speed in his already fast run, is aware of safety rules concerning railroad crossings and stops to allow a train to pass. Of course, Wile E. Coyote arrogantly doesn't, and he (once again) is crushed beneath another oncoming train.
    • In Streamlined Greta Green (1937), Junior the roadster tries to outrace a train, gets hit (naturally) and has to go the hospital/body shop; once he recovers he then goes and does it again, this time it's the train that gets the worst of it.
  • The MGM cartoon One Cab's Family, starting around 5:15. The father cab is understandably terrified at his son doing this and speeds after him.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Over a Barrel", a herd of buffalo race against the train heading for Appleloosa. One of them, Little Strongheart, manages to jump on board and disconnect the caboose. It's both subverted and downplayed in that the train itself is being pulled by ponies at running speed.
    • "The Last Roundup" has Applejack racing a train while driving a horse-drawn carriage. She makes it, although the four horses later call her crazy and leave in a huff. Her pursuers? Their horses were Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy ...
  • Optimus Prime catches up to, then gets in front of a train, making most of the distance in his Truck mode before switching to Robot and grabbing the train by the caboose and stopping it.
  • In Robot Chicken, a boy tests out the "pop rocks and soda" legend and ends up to such an extent that it propels him like a rocket. Naturally, he ends up flying past a train in a parody of the Superman: The Movie scene. A little girl on the train comments on him, only to be admonished for "being dumb" by her mother and told that she won't get to have a birthday that year.

    Real Life 
  • The Blue Train Races were a series of famous match races between racing drivers and trains in the 1920s and 1930s.
  • There is a race in southwest Colorado called the Iron Horse Classic where cyclists race an old steam train 50 miles through mountainous territory between Durango and Silverton. The train almost never wins.
  • There are plenty of stories about people in cars (or on bikes, or on foot) who try to beat trains to crossings, just so they won't be a few seconds late at whatever they were doing at the time. Most of them end up dead at worst, or seriously injured at best. Remember, when you race a train, if it's a tie, you lose. It usually takes a few minutes for the train to pass safely, so it isn't worth the risk.
  • Some UK heritage railways have organised 'race the train' events, with a designated route near the line. In this case the trains are slow enough that it's achievable.
    • Conversely, some stretches of commercial railway that have had motorways built alongside them have had to have screen fencing erected to stop people racing the trains.
    • In his first travel documentary, "Confessions of a Trainspotter", Michael Palin ponders an unofficial policy on British Rail to run at maximum speed whenever near a road. Considering he was on an HST 125 (standing for High Speed Train, 125 mph), there's little chance a car could keep up.
  • The Great Train Race in Melbourne is between people on foot and a narrow gauge train called Puffing Billy up a hill.
  • While the Mille Miglia was still running, having to dodge trains was a very real possibility, as the rail lines were not shut down for the race. The page image depicts Hans Herrmann's famous near-miss in the 1954 running. Driving a low-slung Porsche 550 Spyder, and coming up on a rail crossing at speed, the gates dropped at the very last minute. Deciding that it was too late to attempt to stop, Herrmann knocked on navigator Herbert Linge's helmet to make him duck, then raced under the barrier, just missing it and the train. The two finished first in class, and sixth overall.
  • Railfair 1999, a large railfan expo at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, featured a race between two geared Shay locomotives. Played with in that Shay locomotives were designed to operate on poorly laid track in lumber camps or coal mines where speed was a liability; the top speed of the winning locomotive was just shy of 20 miles per hour.
  • Peter Cooper built a small locomotive, named Tom Thumb, for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in 1830 as a demonstration model, to convince the railroad to use steam power rather than horses. A local stagecoach operator challenged it to a race, and Tom Thumb performed well until a belt driving the boiler draft fan broke, causing steam pressure to fall, and the horse won. The B&O still decided to use steam power.