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Railroad Plot

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An evil executive or tycoon has big plans for something, typically a railroad or a highway. Suddenly though, in the middle of construction, something goes wrong. Quicksand is found, a town is in the way, or something else goes wrong. Whatever it is, now all of a sudden, there is a town, city, tree, memorial, planet, grumpy old man, or whatever in the way of the completion of a project, and this means either stopping/delaying the project (which means wasting a lot of cash) or destroying the town.

This is known as a "Railroad Plot" due to it being frequent in Westerns, but other examples are not uncommon, including in real-life.

Inversion of Never Recycle a Building. Compare Community-Threatening Construction.

No connection to Railroading, though a plot that requires the GM to force things along may well be called one.


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    Film — Live Action 
  • Avatar: Humans go to Pandora to mine unobtanium. The largest deposit is, unfortunately, under the Na'vi Hometree.
  • The plot of Blazing Saddles gets started when the corrupt Hedley Lamarr learns that his planned railway course has to be detoured because of some quicksand, and conspires with an easily-bribed governor to hire a gang of baddies to rough up the remote town of Rock Ridge so that they can get the land on the cheap. Unfortunately for him, he finds himself opposed by the very sheriff that he had appointed to the town (having banked on the prejudices of the townsfolk to convinced them to leave the town over having a Black sheriff).
  • In The Ghost and the Darkness, the obstacle obstructing the railroad is a pair of man-eating lions who are decimating the construction crew.
  • Herbie Rides Again revolves around a plot by Corrupt Corporate Executive Alanzo Hawk to build a massive skyscraper (in the shape of the letter H) on ground where an old firehouse stands. The old lady who lives there is the last holdout preventing construction from starting, as all the other buildings around it have already been demolished.
  • Belgian/Mongolian film Khadak involves a group of nomadic herders who are told by the government that their livestock have all caught a plague, and will have to be destroyed, thus requiring the herders to settle down in town and go to work. It's a plot to get the herders off the land, which is then turned into an enormous mine.
  • Made in Mongolia: Bodi's a country bumpkin who just inherited a house and a lot in the capital. Hujee is a Corrupt Corporate Executive who wants to build an apartment complex there, and by hook or by crook, he's going to get Bodi's plot of land.
  • One of the subplots (which provides a a possible motive for murder) in Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears is a deal brokered by Montague to sell the British-Palestinian Railway to Lord Lofthouse and Sheik kahlil for a fraction of its real value, allowing them to make huge profit and scoring himself a hefty commission.
  • Used in the plot of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Smith wants to turn a tract of land into a not-Boy Scout camp. The same land is bought by a corrupt businessman planning on grafting it to the government to build a hydroelectric dam proposed by his paid-off Senator. A battle of wills ensues.
  • In Once Upon a Time in the West, McBain knew that any train line through the region could only refuel water for the steam engine in a single place and build his farm on the site, expecting to make a small fortune by selling water to the train company. So Morton had the family killed by Frank so that he could buy the land himself.
  • In the western parody Rustlers' Rhapsody the hero reveals that every western frontier town he rides into is the same, including the fact that the railroad is coming to town.
  • Part of the background in Six Reasons Why is a bitter rivalry between the railroad and the Zeppelin line to link the boomtowns. This rivalry leads to the Entrepreneur's father, who runs the railroad being assassinated, and sends The Entrepreneur into The Badlands in pursuit of his killer.
  • In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Judge Doom intends to wipe out Toontown with a gigantic Dip-spraying machine so a new freeway can go through its former location.
  • Wild River: A rare example of a work in which the person/entity building the "railroad" is sympathetic and well-intentioned. The Tennessee Valley Authority will do a world of good for Appalachia, bringing jobs and electricity, and stopping the regular deadly, catastrophic floods of the river, saving lives and property. Chuck Glover, the TVA man, doesn't want to hurt anybody. Still, though, Ella Garth and her island stand in the way of the dam the TVA needs to build.

  • At the beginning of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the Vogons blow up the earth because it's where a "hyperspatial express route" is to be built. An unusual case as this doesn't make up the bulk of the plot; it merely kicks off the book's events... At least until a couple of books later, when it turns out that rather a lot more is going on than the reader or the characters had previously been aware of.
  • Monk: The murder in the novel Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse. Developer Lucas Breen wants to build a community center where five old rowhouses are located. While all of the homeowners agree to buyouts from him, one of them, a nosy elderly lady who snitches on her neighbors, refuses. More to that, she has photographic evidence of Breen having an affair with her neighbor across the street, and threatens to tell his wife if he tries to evict her. So Breen kills her and burns down her house, then kills a dalmatian at a nearby firehouse when he has to steal firefighting gear to return to the crime scene and retrieve incriminating evidence he'd left behind.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A highway version in the "Aunt Bee, the Crusader" episode of The Andy Griffith Show, with veteran actor Charles Lane as Mr. Frisby, a chicken farmer whose property is about to be seized by Sheriff Andy, who ruthlessly insists that Mr. Frisby must vacate the property because his is the only one where the new bridge can be built. Aunt Bee and the townswomen appear to start sticking up for him by protest rallies, only to turn against Mr. Frisby when moonshine stills and drunken chickens are discovered in his cellar.
  • Better Call Saul: In Season 5 episode 3, "The Guy For This," Mesa Verde wants to build a call center in Tucumcari, New Mexico. The land they want to build the call center on is land that had several houses on it, where the homeowners signed leases in the 1970s that stipulated the property owners could buy them out at any time. While almost everyone has accepted their buyouts, one Mr. Acker has refused to sell, and the judge has ruled against his right to claim the land as his. Despite all of Kim's attempts to meet, negotiate, and even sympathize with him, he refuses to budge.
  • In Cranford, the imminent arrival of the railway is a major source of concern and disagreement in the community, with many concerned that it will destroy their way of life.
  • How Cybervillage starts. Nikolay is the only one refusing to evacuate Mars and make room for Baragozin's new factory.
  • In Daredevil (2015), Wilson Fisk's master plan is to raze down Hell's Kitchen and replace it with his own building plans. On one particular block of tenements, he wants to demolish them so that his Yakuza business partners can build Midland Circle. Fisk's people resort to intimidation tactics to get the residents to leave, culminating in one holdout, Elena Cardenas, who has secured Nelson & Murdock to help her fight her eviction, being killed on Fisk's orders as bait for Matt.
  • In an episode of Little House on the Prairie, the railroad was coming to town and bringing with it drunks and other rowdies that would completely transform the character of Walnut Grove. The town fought against the railroad and the railroad redirected to go to a different small town.
    • The Grand Finale involved a railway baron deciding to do the above-mentioned situation again... and managing to buy the lands where Walnut Grove is located right out from under its inhabitants. The inhabitants of Walnut Grove decide to give the best show of defiance that they can... by blowing up the whole town and leaving the baron with no community to profit from.
  • Whiplash: In "Convict Town", Big Tom Ledward rules his settlement with a rod of iron much to his son Dan's distaste, and is determined to stop Cobb opening a new stage route by any means.
  • The series finale of Wild Boys reveals that the murder of local settlers had been part of a plot by the local Commissioner of Lands to secure control of their properties before the railroad came to Hopetoun.

  • The Six Shooter: In "Silver Annie", a dying town which is counting on the railroad coming through ropes in Britt to try and persuade a cantankerous old woman is the sole holdout: refusing to sell the town the right of way to her land.

    Video Games 
  • The Coyote Gorge district of Criminal Case: Mysteries of the Past revolves around The Flying Squad stopping the Italian gang from forcing the people of said district out of their homes so that they can "buy" up all the property and sell it to the Concordia Railroad Company for a hefty profit.
  • L.A. Noire: The game's overarching plot eventually revolves around a rather complex variation, befitting the noir genre. A conspiracy of corporate mogols realise that the US government intends to use eminent domain to acquire land needed to build a planned major freeway (the LA freeway), compensating the land owners for the value of the land. They plot to buy all of the land in that area - muscling out local homeowners and torching their houses if they refuse to leave - and then erect cheap knock-off houses in their place which are falsely assessed for several times their worth, artificially boosting the value of the land. Then when the US government enforces eminent domain to buy the land, based off the fake appraisals, the conspiracy can sell for a massive profit.

    Western Animation 
  • The Adventures of Lariat Sam story arc "The Badlands Cannonball." Tippytoes (Sam's horse) builds his own railroad to compete against Badlands Meeney's ("We aim to please...but our aim is lousy!").
  • Looney Tunes:
    • A railroad is being built in the Bugs Bunny cartoon "The Unruly Hare." Bugs has some fun at the expense of railroad surveyor Elmer Fudd.
    • "Porky's Railroad" (1937) centered around Porky's train, "Ol' Toots" being decommissioned in favor of the new streamlined train the Silverfish. After the engineer of the Silverfish talks smack about Porky's train, Porky challenges him to a race.
  • Is the focus of a two-part Regular Show episode. The railroad leads to Hell, reviving several antagonists.

    Real Life 
  • The controversial concept of Eminent Domain embodies this trope. For example, Kelo v. City of New London (2005) established the very scary precedent that it's legal for the government to use eminent domain to force people to sell their properties to land developers, as long as the government can make a case that the proposed development would significantly enrich the community.
    • Regarding the Kelo decision, it might be well to note that it was particularly controversial because the land was being confiscated to give to another private owner, for commercial development, as opposed to using it to build public works like eminent domain is meant to be used. Worse, the developer was unable to finance the development, so the land remains vacant after the houses on it were demolished.
    • At least there is some good to come out of it: After the precedent was established, a number of states enacted legislation clarifying that eminent domain could only be used to build something with an obvious benefit to the public.
  • Pierre Trudeau evicted an entire town on the Gaspé Peninsula, bulldozed and burnt down the houses, in order to turn the land into a nature preserve.
  • The Lost Villages were rural Ontario communities submerged to build the St. Lawrence Seaway, a series of waterworks letting ships pass from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.
  • In China, the term "nail house" (钉子户 or 釘子戶) is used to describe small properties belonging to residents who have refused to sell their land to developers trying to build a much larger project that requires their and a bunch of others' land. In order to apply pressure while still technically making it a consensual decision to sell on the part of the holdout, some developers start construction on their project even before they secure all the necessary plots of land, mainly by digging all around the holdout's property as far down as they need to in order to lay the foundation for the new building. The result is a house or shop that very prominently stands out in the middle of a construction area, like a nail that sticks out from the floor (such as this example of a house and restaurant in Chongqing in 2007 — the owner Wu Ping was the lone holdout against a shopping mall being constructed until her family was finally forced to leave and given a new apartment plus one million yuannote  and becoming a cause celebre in China over the issue).
  • The Thirsty Beaver in Charlotte, North Carolina is a small one-story bar which was built in 2008 in what was then empty lots. Some years later developers bought up the surrounding area looking to build a multi-story apartment complex — they twice approached the bar owners about selling but were rebuffed. The developers eventually gave up and built a horseshoe-shaped apartment building around it, drawing comparisons to the movie Up.