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"His driver applied the brakes, but it was too late..."

"What bridge?"
Tonto,The Lone Ranger
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If the track on which a train is supposed to run has been damaged or obstructed, any train running across it will be at best halted and at worst completely destroyed. Sometimes this happens by accident — a storm, flood, or other disaster might wash away a bridge or knock a tree across the line. Other times, there's a nefarious scheme at work — some villain sabotages the rails so as to wreck the next train that passes (or, in a downplayed version, simply to force it to stop). Either way, it has the potential to lead to a disaster, and makes our heroes' train trip more hazardous than they would like.

Often, the problem will not be noticed by the people on the train until too late — in order to save the day, it will be necessary to warn the driver somehow. The situation can be exacerbated if you've got a Runaway Train, since the train can't stop even if the danger is known. This is one of the main reasons Train Stopping by passing heroes is necessary.

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A version of this will often feature in a Rollercoaster Mine. It can be part of a Train Job plot, and may be the cause of a Big Disaster Plot.

This is, of course, Truth in Television. Wikipedia has an exhaustive list of train accidents, many of which were caused by this.

Contrast Railroad Tracks of Doom and Chained to a Railway, where there's something on the track but the danger is not to the train. Not to be confused with departures from metaphorical rails (such as Derailed Train of Thought, Off the Rails, or Translation Train Wreck). Also not to be confused with a trouble in the soundtrack. Or a race track trouble.


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Examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • Lucky Luke: In "Jesse James", Jesse's gang pull one rail to the side to flip the train. One of them decides to improve on it by bending both tracks at a time, letting the train jump the tracks and coast to a stop in a nearby town (eliciting locals remarking they didn't know the railway was coming to their town and what this'll do to property prices).

    Films — Animation 
  • In The Incredibles, Mr Incredible has to stop a train before it reaches a destroyed section of track — which he does, although not without getting sued for injury by some of the passengers.
  • In La Ballade des Dalton, one of the people who the Dalton brothers are trying to kill is a train driver, and they decide to accomplish it by derailing his train. Unfortunately for them, the train goes further than they expect when it leaves the rails, and Luke gets to it before they do. Luke tells them that the driver is dead, which isn't true.
  • Bad Cop from The LEGO Movie blasts away a section of a railroad bridge where it crosses a tall canyon, willing to sacrifice the locomotive and all aboard in order to eradicate La Résistance.
  • In The Iron Giant, the Giant pulls on some tracks just as the train approaches. Hogarth gets him to put the tracks back, but he takes too long and is hit by the train.
  • In Anastasia, Rasputin's goblin minions try to kill Anya first by detaching the train car she's in, then by destroying the bridge up ahead.
  • In Toy Story 3, the beginning of the skit involves One-Eyed Bart (Mr. Potato Head) destroying the train track and making his escape with Woody having to save the train full of orphans.
  • In Hoodwinked, while the Wolf and Twitchy are riding a mine cart through the hills, they accidentally destroy part of a trestle after Twitchy mistakes some sticks of dynamite for candles. The resulting damage causes Red Puckett's cart right behind them to be sent flying into the air.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Superman: The Movie, an earthquake damages a rail line, necessitating Superman's intervention.
  • In The Titfield Thunderbolt, the track used by the so-named train is blocked by the bus company against which it competes.
  • A critical plot point in The Cassandra Crossing, since the contaminated passenger train must cross it. The United States military knows the bridge is substandard, and subsequent shots of the bridge show increasing amounts of dereliction, rust and decay.
  • At the end of The Bridge on the River Kwai the title bridge is destroyed by demolition charges, causing the Japanese military train trying to cross it to fall to its doom.
  • In Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Movie, the giant Ivan Ooze breaks a monorail track, forcing Tommy to disengage from the battle in order to use his Zord as a temporary replacement for the missing section.
  • Back to the Future Part III has The Hero journey back to 1885, seeking to avert the demise of his Mentor Archetype. However, gasoline isn't a readily available fuel, so the Time Machine needs to be accelerated to 88 mph by a steam locomotive. However, the spur that's used leads to a wrecked bridge over a canyon. There's even a Point of No Return where the DeLorean must attain 88 mph, or The Hero will die trying.
  • Deakin blows the track in front of the train in order to stop it in Breakheart Pass. O'Brien is able to stop the train before it hits the damaged section. The outlaws and Indians are then set to work to pull up a section of track from behind the train and use it to replace the damaged track so O'Brien can get moving again.

    Literature 
  • In the first book of The Pillars of Reality, the train on which Mari and Alain are travelling runs along the top of some coastal cliffs — parts of which turn out to have collapsed. It looks like it could be natural, but it actually deliberate sabotage to get rid of Mari and Alain.
  • In Cherie Priest's Dreadnought, the titular armoured train finds itself in a race against another train, not so much because they need to get to their destination first but because whichever train is ahead might be able to sabotage the other's track. When the train does indeed have to apply its brakes, it only just manages to stop in time.

    Theme Parks 
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in all incarnations. Such hazards tend to include such things as broken trestles, flooded caves, earthquakes, and tunnels undergoing blasting.
    • Disneyland Paris's version goes a step further by having a trestle that has been partially washed away, with resulting drop being the location of the on-ride photo.

    Video Games 
  • In Half-Life, the chapter "Apprehension" opens with soldiers blowing up the track your tram is on, and you'll end up crashing into a nearby pool of water if you don't get off in time.
  • In Lighthouse: The Dark Being, one of the last puzzles in the game deals with replacing a broken rail with a new one. And you have to make sure to stop your mining tram in time, otherwise it derails and lands you being trapped in the Parallel World forever.

    Web Comics 
  • In Girl Genius a bridge on the route to Paris is taken out by Knights of Jove allied to Martellus which forces the train Agatha's on to stop. When the Wyrm's engine gets tipped by a group of Uplifted bears in the ensuing fight some of the cars in back are loaded with the passengers and uncoupled from the disaster dominoes occurring with the rest of the train and then convert into a very unstable looking emergency escape airship to flee to the Depot Fortress of St Spzac.

    Western Animation 
  • Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated: In "The Wild Brood", the villain blows up a bridge in order to destroy a valuable brand-new video game console being carried on a train, which he also rendered a runaway. The train does end up plunging off the bridge and violently blowing up, but the game console is saved.
  • In one of the Superman Theatrical Cartoons, "Billion Dollar Limited," bad guys attempt to wreck the titular train carrying a large shipment of gold. They try rerouting the train on a switch to a boxcar loaded with explosives, and blowing up a bridge. Superman foils both plans, but is unable to save the locomotive from being destroyed by a bomb. Fortunately, he's powerful enough to pull the train the rest of the way.
  • Thomas the Tank Engine... hoo boy, if we were to list them all, we'd be here all day!:
    • In the episode "Thomas Gets Bumped", Thomas tries to run across his branch line faster, having been late the previous day helping some school children get home when their school bus breaks down. One piece of the tracks on his line has been bent by the hot sun, and when he tries to slow down, he ends up derailing when he runs across it.
    • In the episode "Bye George!", George the Steamroller is sent to build a new level crossing. He deliberately does so very poorly, so that the asphalt covers the rails. As Thomas tries to deliver some vegetables, his driver notices the unsafe level crossing and tries to stop him (as the signalman didn't tell him about it earlier), but Thomas ends up derailing when he goes over the crossing and crashing into a chicken coop.
  • In the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog episode "The Robotnik Express", the titular bomb-loaded train is headed towards an unfinished bridge, built directly over the Buffalo Village. When Sonic reaches the bridge, he informs two of the workers that they only have five minutes to fix the bridge before the train gets to it. Towards the end of the episode, when Sonic is forced to sacrifice his original plan to switch the train onto a dead end and save Da Bearz, they have to fix the bridge as fast as they can, at least to the point of launching the train to the other side of the bridge.
  • In the Rugrats episode "Where's Grandpa?", when Grandpa Lou goes missing at a Canadian tourist attraction, Tommy and Chuckie sneak onto a train ride that is closed for maintenance to find him. When the engineer sends the train onto a test run, the train heads toward an unfinished track leading to the edge of a cliff, which Tommy and Chuckie aren't aware of, but Stu and Didi certainly are. Didi tries to switch the train onto the safe track, but sends it onto the unsafe one instead. Fortunately, the train stops before it goes off the unsafe track, and Tommy and Chuckie get out just in time. Unfortunately for Stu, who was chasing after the train, the slope of the hill makes the train go backwards, and it chases after him.
  • The Tom and Jerry cartoon "Kitty Foiled" shows Tom Cat fix Jerry Mouse Chained to a Railway of a scale model railroad set, then ride atop the running train itself. Jerry's newest friend, a yellow canary, drops a bowling ball in Tom's path, which not only wrecks the tracks, but powers a huge hole in the living room floor! It never occurs to that Too Dumb to Live cat to hop off the train.
  • In the TUGS episode "High Tide", when Top Hat, Zebedee, and Zak come across a narrow canal with a railway bridge above it, the high tide causes Zebedee's steel rig to damage the bridge. While Zebedee and Zak leave to get help, Top Hat uses Zebedee's steel rig to prop up the bridge whilst Puffa travels across it. Unfortunately, shortly afterwards, the steel rig sinks and the bridge collapses, forcing Top Hat to catch the Goods Engine in Lord Stinker the Garbage Barge when it comes across the bridge.
  • The New Adventures of Superman: In "The Iron Eater", Superman has to stop a train after the eponymous monster eats a section of track.

    Real Life 
  • Averted in a US military experiment to determine ways to derail a train with a small amount of explosives. https://youtu.be/rCyVj6kt2zA?t=208 . The train was able to pass over a 30 inch gap in both rails.
  • Soviet resistance fighters during WWII would often disrupt the tracks in order derail or stop Nazi trains. It was a relatively safe and simple way to disrupt enemy logistics and (with luck) set up major accidents. Naturally, many Russian WWII films include such scenes, complete with something complicating the sabotage. If successful, the train is inevitably derailed.
  • La Résistance in France and the Low Countries also did this after Overlord to delay the arrive of German troops and supplies (particularly fuel). The most effective saboteurs were railway workers who knew how to inflict the most damage with minimal effort.

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