Runaway Train

Runaway Train Information

Runaway Train is a 1985 American thriller film directed by Andrei Konchalovsky. The screenplay by Djordje Milicevic, Paul Zindel and Edward Bunker was based on an original screenplay by Akira Kurosawa with uncredited contributions by frequent Kurosawa collaborators Hideo Oguni and Ryuzo Kikushima. It stars Jon Voight, Eric Roberts, Rebecca De Mornay and John P. Ryan. It was also the feature debuts of Danny Trejo and Tommy "Tiny" Lister, who both proceeded to successful careers as "tough guy" character actors.

The film's story concerns two escaped convicts and a female train worker who are stuck on a runaway train as it barrels through snowy desolate Alaska. Voight and Roberts were both nominated for Academy Awards for their respective roles.


The story follows the escape of two men from an Alaska prison, the efforts of a train dispatching office to safely stop the out-of-control train they are on, and the hunt by their warden to recapture them.

Oscar "Manny" Manheim is a ruthless bank robber and hero to the convicts of Stonehaven Maximum Security Prison. After two previous escape attempts the doors to Manny's cell have been welded shut for three years. A court order compels Manny's nemesis, the vindictive Associate Warden Ranken, to release him back into the general prison population. Manny immediately sets his next escape plan into action.

Buck is another convict (convicted of statutory rape) who due to his position in the prison's laundry room is recruited to smuggle Manny out in a laundry trolley. Naive and unintelligent, Buck decides to escape with Manny, who does not care for company. After a freezing cross-country hike (involving a 300 ft drop into a river and subsequent swim) the two hop on board a train consisting of four locomotives at a remote Alaskan rail yard.

Just as the train is set in motion, the elderly engineer suffers a heart attack. In attempting to stop the train and get off, the engineer does not set the throttle to Idle, instead engaging the brakes, before collapsing off the still-moving train. This overrides the engine's automatic train stop. Consequently, although the brakes apply, the locomotives overpower them, and the brake shoes burn off, making it impossible to stop the train.

Neither the two convicts nor the only railway worker left on the train, a locomotive hostler named Sara, are aware of their situation (the convicts having taken refuge inside the fourth unit's toilet compartment, Sara having been asleep in the second unit).

As the train accelerates, dispatcher Frank Barstow is alerted to the situation. Unaware of the failure of the brakes, Barstow authorizes employees to allow the runaway out onto the mainline, arrogantly insisting that a computer-controlled signalling system of his creation will trigger a brake application on the locomotives. The last of the brake shoes burn off and the dispatchers realize the severity of their situation, forcing them to keep the tracks clear.

The runaway smashes through the caboose of a freight train that was in the act of moving out of its path. The collision badly damages the cab of the lead locomotive and jams the front door of the second engine, an old EMD F-unit. As the train accelerates to dangerous speeds, Barstow realizes that the locomotive's over-speed control is no longer working properly after the crash. Learning that the train's excessive speed will most probably collapse an old railroad trestle ahead, Barstow's superior orders him to derail it, believing that no one alive is on board.

At this point the signal maintainer hears the train's horn. Realizing that someone is indeed alive on the train, Barstow orders a reversal of the switch. The speeding train continues onwards towards the aged Seneca trestle, where emergency workers are gathering in expectation of a disaster.

Warden Ranken concludes that his two escaped convicts are escaping by rail. Meanwhile, the two fugitives have found Sara on board when she climbs back to the fourth engine in the belief she will be safer towards the rear of the train in a possible collision.

Now aware that the engineer must be dead, the three must get to the lead engine so that they can press its fuel cutoff switch. Sara informs them that they can't because the second locomotive is a "carbody" F-unit with no forward catwalk. Its nose door, which would normally allow access to the lead engine, is jammed from the collision with the freight.

At her suggestion, they are able to slow the train somewhat by disconnecting the MU cables connected to the two rear locomotives, shutting them down and slowing the train enough for it to safely cross the Seneca trestle.

The dispatchers divert the runaway onto a branch after determining it is only five minutes away from a head-on collision with a passenger train. This is only a brief respite, as further ahead the branch negotiates a tight curve adjacent to a chemical plant. Even at its reduced speed, the runaway is likely to derail on this curve and trigger a major chemical spill.

His hand forced, Barstow agrees that they must switch the runaway onto a stub-ended siding and crash it, thus sending the three people on the train to almost certain death, rather than risk a catastrophic chemical explosion. Warden Ranken refuses to wait, coercing Barstow's assistance in chasing down the train by prison helicopter.

Manny shows an increasingly violent streak, repeatedly asserting his dominance over Buck. He eventually forces Buck to attempt a suicidal scramble around the outside of the second engine's nose (Buck already having tried once and failed). Sara's intervention on Buck's behalf forces an armed face-off between the two convicts. Emotionally broken, all three slump into a fatalistic depression in the F-unit's cab, only broken when Ranken's helicopter catches up with the train.

Spurred on by the appearance of his arch-foe, and resolved not to return to prison, even if it means his own death, Manny makes a perilous leap from the F-unit's broken windshield to the lead engine. There, after a struggle with Ranken (who has successfully boarded by helicopter), Manny handcuffs him inside the cab.

To the music of the second movement of Antonio Vivaldi's "Gloria" in D ("Et In Terra Pax"), Manny uncouples the lead engine from the rest of the train, leaving Buck and Sara safely behind. He refuses to stop the lead engine despite Buck's screamed pleas. With Ranken his prisoner now, Manny climbs onto the roof of the lone engine in the freezing cold and blowing snow, his arms stretched out, ready to meet his end.

After a series of cross-cuts of Buck and Manny's fellow inmates mourning in their cells at Stonehaven, the film fades to white and closes with an on-screen quote from William Shakespeare's Richard III:


  • Jon Voight - Oscar "Manny" Manheim
  • Eric Roberts - Buck
  • Rebecca De Mornay - Sara
  • Kyle T. Heffner - Frank Barstow
  • John P. Ryan - Ranken
  • T. K. Carter - Dave Prince
  • Kenneth McMillan - Eddie MacDonald
  • Stacey Pickren - Ruby
  • Walter Wyatt - Conlan
  • Edward Bunker - Jonah
  • Reid Cruickshanks - Al Turner (as Reid Cruikshanks)
  • Dan Wray - Fat Con
  • Michael Lee Gogin - Short Con
  • John Bloom - Tall Con
  • Hank Worden - Old Con (as Norton E. 'Hank' Warden)
  • Danny Trejo - Boxer
  • Tiny Lister - Jackson, security guard
  • Dennis Franz - Cop (uncredited)


The film received generally positive reviews, and enjoyed an 86% "fresh" rating on as of February 2009. Janet Maslin, writing for the New York Times, felt that much of the film was absurd but that Jon Voight's performance was excellent, and she credits the film for "crude energy and bravado". In 2010, movie critic Michael Phillips said on his show At the Movies that it was the most under-rated movie of the 1980s. Roger Ebert awarded the film four out of four stars.

Box Office

The movie was a box office success.


Akira Kurosawa wrote the original screenplay intending it to be his first color film following Red Beard, but difficulties with the American financial backers led to it being shelved.

The Alaska Railroad decided that their name and logo would not be shown. Several scenes referred to the railroad as 'A&E Northern'. The filming took place near Portage Glacier, Whittier and Grandview.

The prison scenes at the beginning of the movie were filmed in Deer Lodge, Montana, and some railroad yard scenes were filmed in Anaconda, Montana.

The runaway train's lineup in the movie consisted of four Alaska Railroad locomotives, all built by EMD: GP40-2 #3010, F7 #1500, and #1801 and #1810, both GP7s. The latter two locomotives had previously been rebuilt by ARR with low short hoods as opposed to a GP7's original high short hood, but were fitted with mock-up high hoods made of plywood for the film, branded with fictional numbers 531 and 812, respectively. Because #1801's cab had been reconstructed prior to filming, the '531' prosthetic hood stood slightly higher than the normal hood height of a GP7 in order to fit over the locomotive's number-board.

The locomotives used in the film have gone their separate ways:

  • ARR GP40-2 #3010 is still active on the Alaska Railroad, painted in the new corporate scheme.
  • ARR F7 #1500 is now at the Alaska Transport Museum in Anchorage, AK.
  • ARR GP7 #1810 was sold to the Oregon Pacific Railroad and operated as OP #1810. In 2008, the unit was sold to the Cimarron Valley Railroad and is now permanently coupled to former OP Slug #1010.
  • ARR GP7 #1801 was sold to a locomotive leasing company in Kansas City, MO, then sold to the Missouri Central Railroad and operated as MOC #1800. The locomotive subsequently appeared in another motion picture, Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, in 1995. (There is some question about the previous statement. The engine used in the movie UnderSeige 2: Dark Territory was former AAR #1804, now owned by the Gold Coast Railroad Museum, Miami, Florida "GCOX 1804". It has been repainted in the Atlantic Coast Line "purple" livery.) MOC became the Central Midland Railroad in 2002. As Central Midland had their own leased power, MOC 1800 was returned to Midwest Locomotive In Kansas City. Shortly after, it was then sold the Respondek Rail Corp of Granite City, IL and is now used on Respondek's Port Harbor Railroad subsidiary. The unit's identification is RRC #1800.
  • The train that was hit by the runaway was led by MRS-1 #1605. This unit had been retired in 1984, one year before filming started. The unit has since been cut up for scrap.
  • Sequences set at the rail yard, shot on the Butte, Anaconda and Pacific Railway in Anaconda, Montana, used local locomotives from the BA&P fleet along with former Northern Pacific EMD F9 #7012A, leased from the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad. The two GP7s and the F9 were fitted with plywood boxes to duplicate the distinctive 'winterization hatches' carried on their Alaskan counterparts.
  • BA&P EMD GP38-2 #109, the BA&P locomotive used in the yard scenes as the lead-engine in place of ARR #3010, was subsequently sold to the Alaska Railroad and remains in service there as #2002, along with sister unit #2001 (ex-BA&P #108).
Richard (Rick) Holley was killed during the filming when the helicopter he was piloting hit power lines on the way to a location shoot in Alaska. The movie is dedicated to him during the closing credits.


It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor (Jon Voight), Best Supporting Actor (Eric Roberts) and Editing.

The film was entered into the 1986 Cannes Film Festival.

This webpage uses material from the Wikipedia article "Runaway_Train_%28film%29" and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Reality TV World is not responsible for any errors or omissions the Wikipedia article may contain.



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