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Doc Brown: Freeze!
Engineer: Is this a hold up?
Doc Brown: [beat]... It's a science experiment!
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A staple of The Western, an outlaw boards a train for the express purpose of robbing it. This was especially common during the period that payroll shipments were sent by train. If the railroad itself or the railroad industry in general is an antagonist in the movie, expect to see at least one of these.

A common Caper for films set in the right period. The earliest train robbery was probably the Great Gold Robbery of 1855 - the earliest one in the USA (outside the Civil War) occurred in 1866. So it's basically as old as railways themselves. May eventually lead to a Traintop Battle.

The video game equivalent is the Locomotive Level.

See also Armed Blag, which is a robbery of an armored car.


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Examples:

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    Advertising 
  • Used in this classic New Zealand ad for Crunchie, known (appropriately enough) as "The Crunchie Train Robbery".

    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • In their first appearance in the Batman comics, the western themed villains the Trigger Twins try to pull off a train job by robbing the money train that collects the takings from the Gotham subway.
  • In The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones #26, a band of Cossacks stop a train travelling across the Ukrainian steppes and drag off Dr. Jones and his companion Beth Cody.
  • Hunter's Hellcats: In Our Fighting Forces #111, the Hellcats have to hijack a train that is being to used to transport a captured La Résistance leader
  • Train robbers are common bad guys in Jonah Hex. Usually a story would open with them holding up a train, when Hex, who was either passing by or being among the passengers, stops them with his gunplay.
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    Film — Animated 
  • Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay opens with the Squad hitting Tobias Whale's private train while it is in motion in order to steal a flash drive full of sensitive information from him.

    Film — Live Action 
  • The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford includes in one of its earlier scenes James's last train robbery, the Blue Cut railroad job of 1882.
  • In Back to the Future Part III, Doc hijacks a local train. When asked if this was a train robbery, he responds that it's a "science experiment." In some ways, this is an inversion of the trope. Other robbers would take valuables from the train and leave the train itself undamaged. Doc and Marty took the engine (and destroyed it); the valuables on the train weren't even discussed, much less taken. Although considering the comparative value of gold to that of a locomotive at the time, they actually destroyed something worth a lot more than regular robbers would have taken from anything short of a bank transport train.
  • Brass Target (1978). In the aftermath of World War II, a train and its guard of US military police are attacked in a tunnel with Deadly Gas, in a conspiracy by corrupt officers to steal the Nazi Gold it's carrying.
  • The Indians storm the the train to steal the weapons they were promised at the climax of Breakheart Pass.
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid rob the same train twice. It's hilarious.
    Butch: "You can't want to get blown up again, Woodcock!?"
  • The protagonists of Fast Five pull one early in the film, stealing three cars out the side of a train carrying them.
  • The catalyst for the plot of The Good, the Bad, the Weird was two, simultaneous yet separate, train jobs pulled on the same train.
  • The 1903 film The Great Train Robbery is almost certainly the Ur-Example (at least for movies).
  • In The Inglorious Bastards, the title characters are offered a pardon by the US Army if they'll pull off the daring heist of a train carrying an experimental Nazi warhead.
  • The Legend of Frenchie King starts with one, perpetrated by the titular character and her gang. It also ends with one, though this one is about rescuing the gang members from going to jail instead of a robbery.
  • In The Lone Ranger, Butch Cavendish's gang stages a raid on a train in order to free their boss. Later Tonto steals an entire train full of silver ore from one of the villains.
  • Sets up the plot of Millions: as Britain changes over to the Euro, a group of thieves rob a train carrying millions of pounds on their way to be incinerated. Some bags of money get lost and find their way to the hands of our protagonists.
  • Money Train starring Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson where a pair of foster brothers are transit cops and one wants to rob the train carrying the system revenue after losing his job.
  • In Once Upon a Texas Train, John Henry and his gang are busted by a band of Texas Rangers while attempting to rob the Texas Train. Twenty years later, John Henry is released from prison and immediately reforms his gang so he can rob the train again, but this time do it right.
  • Public Enemies: Dillinger and company discuss one of these early on in the film. They never get around to it, though.
  • Rio Lobo: The Prolonged Prologue of the movie has a pretty epic one. Cardona and his men eavesdrop on the telegraph to find out when the train will be coming. Then they grease the tracks to stop the engine. Knock out th engineer and brakeman, and shoot any of the Union soldiers in the baggage car (with the gold) who try to come out and fight. Then they detach the rest of the train from the engine, to go rolling down the tracks, while tossing a hornets nest into the car to force all of the Union guards to jump out (tossing in a torch to smoke out the hornets once all of them are gone). Several miles down the track, more of the Confederates have tied lots of ropes across the track, to trees, which are pulled out of their roots when the train hits home, serving as an anchor which stops the train. The confederates then split up several times. First they move the gold in a wagon (which they had filled with rocks on the way in so it's tracks won't look deeper leaving) then spilt up while carting the gold on horseback several times.
  • The climax of Shanghai Noon involves one of these.
  • In Solo, Han Solo and his gang execute a heist on an armored sci-fi train that glides on magnetic rails, has cars above and below the rails, and flips around like a roller coaster. It goes way south, with Val and Rio killed and the coaxium they were after destroyed.
  • The last "dance" sequence in Sucker Punch is a futuristic train heist.
  • The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is this on a subway.
  • In Thunderball SPECTRE is shown to have been involved in Britain's real-life 1963 Great Train Robbery.
  • The Titfield Thunderbolt has an Affectionate Parody of the trope when two separate scenes (the antagonists punching holes in the water cistern for the train and a local poacher-turned-engine driver bagging a pheasant) are cut to make it look like one of these is going on.
  • In the action-comedy Tough Guys (1986), two criminals serving a thirty year sentence for robbing a train in their youth are released on parole. They find life as senior citizens in The '80s too much to cope with, and decide to rob the same train again for old times sake, even though they know it's not carrying any money.
  • The movie The Train concerns the French Resistance's efforts to hijack a train containing priceless works of art stolen by the Nazis.
  • The Train Robbers (1973) starring John Wayne.
  • The Wild Bunch also had a train robbery. Here, the target was guns, not gold.
  • The Matt Helm film The Wrecking Crew featured the train robbery of a fortune in gold bullion.

    Literature 
  • Clockwork Century: In Dreadnought, the James Gang attacks the Dreadnought, though it's more of a "recon by fire" as the train is too well armed to seize.
  • The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton depicts a historical train robbery, although the accuracy is... questionable.
  • O. Henry's Holding Up a Train is possibly the only comedic short story about train robberies. Very Loosely Based on a True Story (a narrative by former outlaw Al Jennings), to boot.
  • One Monk novel, Mr. Monk in Trouble, is about Monk investigating a number of recent killings that turn out to be tied to the theft of a large amount of gold in an infamous train holdup committed in the early 1960s.
  • In Ruin of Angels, several of the central characters take part in a train robbery. Given that it's a Craft Sequence book, the train in question is passing through a wasteland inhabited by insane, starved gods and the plan involves stealing magical space travel technology from an abandoned research facility.
  • A prison train gets hijacked in The Six Sacred Stones by the good guys as part of an escape plan.
  • Louis L'Amour's novel The Trail to Peach Meadow Canyon has the protagonist plan out the robbery of a train carrying a fortune in gold.
  • Holmes On The Range: In On The Wrong Track there's a multi-tiered one, first one train robbery that simply robs a few passengers, then a greater one when the leaders of the gang remain hidden onboard the train, holding the express clerk hostage, while planning to steal the heavier, and more valuable stuff in the baggage car later on.

    Live Action TV 
  • Agents Of Shield: in the episode "T.R.A.C.K.S.", Coulson's team infiltrates a train with the hopes of both stealing the cargo being shipped to Ian Quinn in the train and capture Quinn at the train's last stop. They succeed, but Skye gets shot and very nearly killed by Quinn in the process.
  • In the Batman (1966) TV series, in keeping with his Western motif, the villain Shame pulls a train job.
  • The villains in one episode of Big Bad Beetleborgs plot to rob a train. No, not the things on the train, the train itself.
  • The Brady Bunch: In "Bobby's Hero", Bobby starts idolising Western Outlaw Jesse James. After meeting with a relative of one Jesse James's victim, he has a dream in which Jesse James kills the Bradys during a train robbery.
  • The Breaking Bad episode "Dead Freight" pulls off a near perfect train heist of Methylamine, bar the dead kid with the spider.
  • Occurred in The Cape, wherein the carnival protagonists become the proverbial sand in the wheels of the main protagonist.
  • Since Firefly is a Western IN SPACE!, there is naturally a train job in the episode appropriately titled "The Train Job" which is the Trope Namer. Here, the cargo turns out to be medical supplies bound for the people of Paradiso, who are suffering from a degenerative disease called "Bowden's Malady." Mal, being a man of honor, returns the supplies to the townsfolk, making a very bad enemy of his employer, the psychotic Adelai Niska.
  • Father Brown: In "The Great Train Robbery" a pair of train robbers create a red signal to stop a train, and disconnect the private carriage attached to the rear of the train. When the train pulls off, they board the left behind carriage to steal the owner's jewels.
  • Godless starts with a very bloody one, in which many of the passengers are killed.
  • Heartbeat has featured several train robberies. Apparently the branch lines of 1960s Yorkshire were Britain's answer to the Wild West.
  • The climax of Life On Mars features a train carrying miner's wages being robbed.
  • Michael Bentine's Potty Time had an episode that retold one of the train robberies from The American Civil War, using puppets.
  • Wild West Tech explores the technology and tactics of the trope. Many historical railroad heists are depicted.

    Pinball 

    Video Games 
  • 1866 includes several occurrences of this trope:
    • Some sidequests requires the player to protect a train and shoot the outlaws who are trying to ambush it.
    • One of the quick battles places the player as an outlaw taking part in a raid against a Mexican train which is immobilized on the railway.
  • This is the point of one of the side quests in Borderlands2.
    • Two side quests, and the story mission "A Train to Catch", if you count blowing up the train and looting the wreckage.
  • Call of Juarez, being a Spaghetti Western game, features a Train Job. Or rather, one protagonist is caught helpless right in the middle of it, while the other has to destroy the attacking bandits. On his own.
  • In Darkwatch, outlaw Jericho Cross robs a train in the game's intro. Unfortunately, the train wasn't transporting valuables. It was transporting an ancient vampire.
  • Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony has you jump atop an El Train in order to steal it. The whole train car.
  • Grand Theft Auto V:
    • In the mission "Derailed," Trevor Philips derails a train being used by a high-end courier service so he can loot one of the freight cars.
    • The prep for one version of the final heist involves stealing a train to transport the loot (which consists of four tons of gold bars) out of the state.
  • In Metro: Last Light, where Artyom and Khan chase and invade a freak show train hijacked by the Red Line, aiming to rescue the single surviving Dark One. The interesting parts are that the chase is all on rails, as Khan is piloting a railcar, and it's the one level where the player on a Pacifist Run is allowed to cut loose and just shoot the mooks.
  • There is an entire area in Mousehunt dedicated to this concept, featuring waves of mice attempting to rob the train of its supplies. Hunters have to fend off these mice to get the train to its destination.
  • In PAYDAY 2, if the player finds some top-secret plans in an Armored Transport truck, they unlock a mission involving a stopped military train transporting a sentry turret prototype. A later mission has a more traditional version of the trope, involving the crew boarding a government train in transit by helicopter to steal more valuable military technology.
  • Red Dead games:
    • Red Dead Redemption features several Train Jobs depending on whose train it is, the protagonist may find himself attacking or defending one.
    • Red Dead Revolver had a level where you had to take out the bandits robbing a train.
    • Red Dead Redemption II has several story missions where you rob trains, plus you can also do so in free play and on occasion can find a train being robbed by another gang.
  • A very similar setup is used in The Secret World. The player character boards a train at one point to recover a dangerous device the train is carrying.
  • Sly Cooper:
  • StarCraft II featured a mission where you rob Dominion trains to look for whatever it was that they were transporting, an old Confederate adjutant with some dirt on Mengsk. However, instead of boarding the trains, you blow up the trains and steal the object from the remains.
    • Jim Raynor and Tychus Findlay do this a lot in one of the Expanded Universe novels.
  • Even Star Wars gets one in Jedi Academy.
  • Kicks off the plot of Wild ARMs 3, when two of the playable characters plus the Goldfish Poop Gang try to rob the train, one of the playable characters is there to guard it, and the fourth is just caught in the crossfire.

    Web Comics 
  • In Girl Genius the Knights of Jove allied with Martellus attack multiple Corbettite trains simultaneously looking to kill Lady Margarella and steal a notebook full of valuable and irreplaceable information in her possession. One of the trains they target is carrying both Agatha and Lady Margarella but both of them get away with the rest of the passengers to the Corbettite Depot Fortress of St. Szpac when it becomes evident that the Knight that cornered their train intends to kill everyone present to leave no witnesses.

    Web Original 
  • One DeviantArt atrist has created a series he calls Life Beside the Tracks. One page features Robin and Little John pulling one of these.
  • The plot of the Black trailer of RWBY is Adam and Blake storming a heavily defended train car to steal the entire shipment. It's only later in the series that context is provided for why it happened.

    Western Animation 
  • For reasons that are never really explained, Rojo and her crew are attempting to rob a train in the Ben 10: Ultimate Alien episode "Hit 'Em Where They Live".
  • The Bob's Burgers episode "The Kids Rob a Train". The train in question hosts a wine tasting, but while the adults enjoy a sumptuous buffet complete with a chocolate fountain, the kids stay locked inside the "Juice Caboose". So the Belcher kids, with a little intel from Regular-Sized Rudy, plan to rob the train's chocolate supply.
  • Subverted in Family Guy, where Peter and Lois's father try to rob a passenger train, but no one travels by train anymore.
  • In Justice League Unlimited, after Kasnya ends its Civil War and manages to join The European Union, the Injustice League attempt to rob a trainload of euros en route to the central bank for currency conversion.
  • Parodied, once more, in Codename: Kids Next Door when a bunch of kids dressed like Wild West outlaws hijack a school bus and steal the homework from every other kid on the bus.
  • In his first ever cartoon appearance, Yosemite Sam of Looney Tunes tries to rob a train. He's tried it at least one more time in his long career.
  • The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode, "Over a Barrel", begins with one.
    • Similarly, the episode "MMMystery on The Friendship Express'' is a parody of this, in which Pinkie Pie's Mega Marzipan Madness cake (MMM for short) is destroyed on, well, the Friendship Express.
  • The scheme of the Villain of the Week in the Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated episode "The Wild Brood" ultimately turns out to be a train job. He managed to crash the train, but the product he intended to destroy in the wreck was saved before the derailment (which he managed by blowing up a bridge, closing Crystal Cove's railway line as of the second season).
  • Sheriff Callie's Wild West: While on the way to Junctionville with Governor Groundhog for the annual Sheriff's contest, Sheriff Callie takes care of business when three train bandits steal the Golden Star trophy that was destined for an awards ceremony for 'The Best Sheriff in the State' in "The Train Bandits".
  • Slugterra: In "Mario Bravado", Eli and the gang stage a raid on a train transporting prisoners to rescue Pronto.
  • The SpongeBob SquarePants special "The Great Patty Caper" is another parody, in which Spongebob believes that the key to the safe containing the Krabby Patty secret formula has been stolen.

    Real Life 
  • The first non-war train robbery in the US was committed by the Reno Gang on the evening of October 6, 1866.
  • The largest robbery in British history (now the second largest) was the Great Train Robbery of 1963 (not the one from the Crichton novel).
  • The MO of the James-Younger gang in the 1860s-1880s.
  • Train jobs still plague modern railways, though modern thieves, instead of sticking up the engine, will typically cause some kind of a commotion that requires the train to stop at a grade crossing, then rob the cargo while the crew is distracted.
    • Or the thieves will steal from traincars that are parked in yards or on isolated sidings. Since in some cases these places often have minimal security and the trains are already stopped.
  • Most media involving the outlaw Jesse James depict at least one of these, which is at least partly historically accurate. This dates back to dime novels published during his lifetime.


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