I'm writing a train story - any help would be hugely appreciated

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New Member

I’m a screenwriter currently writing a thriller script that takes place on a train and wanted to do the proper research to do this story justice. Therefore I’m turning to you people.

The story is about an engineer and his team (conductor and brakeman) who run their own train.
In a day and age when transporting cargo via train is done less and less in favor of other modes of transportation, big corporations and criminal syndicates hire this engineer and his train to transport illegal goods. He is hired because he takes his train through dark territories and dead zones - where it can’t be tracked and won’t be seen.

A company hires him to transport a prisoner to another city a few hours away - things go wrong (as they do in movies).

I need your help in clarifying the layout of this train. In general it’d be used to transport freight cars but given the modular nature of trains and the fact that this is a private customizable one, I’m willing to play with the rules a bit.

Here’s what I have so far:

13 cars (perhaps small for a train but they need to be discrete).

1. Locomotive - head of train.
2. Engineering - basically extension of the locomotive.
3. Bunk car - allow the engineer and his team to sleep in shifts on long jobs.
4. Passenger car - generic car for people but not really often used.
5. Dining car - small, sparse kitchen. Nothing fancy.

Here’s where it gets interesting - the company has provided a couple of their own cars.
6. Observation car #1 - full of a specialized team of employees of the company there to watch the prisoner.
7. Containment car - where the prisoner is kept - custom-made.
8. Observation car #2 - full of surveillance and communication equipment to keep in touch with the outside world.
9-10. Security envoy - two custom cars full of weapons, ammunition and an armed private security continent of men to keep the peace during transport.

After those company-provided cars, it goes back to normal cars.
11-12. Cargo cars - to hold luggage, cargo, etc.
13. Caboose - also holds some cargo, back of train.

Does all this hold weight? Does it make sense?
Please feel free to point out problems with anything I’ve written and suggest solutions. Provide insight into how these vehicles and the jobs and rules that go with them work. Teach me about this world. This script needs to be truthful.

Thank you for your time!


You are treating a train and railroad like it was a truck and a highway. It doesn't work like that at all.

About all I can think of to make it even a bit realistic would be to have several freight cars with your people in them instead of a freight load.



Whistle Pig
It's going to be hard to hide a passenger train. I would make all of my cars normal freight cars, box cars mostly, tank car with water, nothing open. You could customize the insides to be whatever you need. That way most people would just see another freight train and not get excited.
As far as how you move the thing from one place to another without having a head on collision with an opposing train, that might be movie magic. I'll bet if your engineer knows a guy who knows a guy you might be able to get between two towns, but if you are on a little used line then there will be somebody with a camera taking a picture and posting it on Railroadforums of a rare freight train on an abandoned railroad.

If the story takes place anytime after the 1980's, you better leave the caboose on the siding. Hope your writing goes well.
Use OP's train for your cars.

You may want to skim through Clive Cussler's "The Chase" for some ideas.

The bad guy has his own (in this case just one) boxcar fitted with living quarters which he uses for escapes. He bribes yard personnel to cut his car into a freight train that is going where he needs to be next. One car or six, what's the diff?

The train gig is not the main element of the story, so a lot of descriptions just tell of the beginning where the errant train is salvaged years later, but don't describe the several episodes where the train car is actually used in the story.

Fair summary here: http://cusslerbooks.com/book-display.php?ISBN=0425224422&TITLE=Chase

The key to the success of the train gig is cutting in to an existing train which has permission to proceed. I had no problems with a willing suspension of disbelief.

Just a thought.


UP Sparky
IMHO, get your nomenclature right. You got the crew titles down, just realize modern crews on a diesel electric are only the Engineer who drives, and the Conductor, who is responsible for the freight. If your story takes place in the present, ditch the concept of an "engineering" car. Simply adding another locomotive (and please, for the love of all things rail, NEVER refer to a locomotive as the "train") to the consist would be the most believable.

Dare I say it, but watch "Unstoppable" with Denzel Washington and Chris Pine to get a decent, albeit exaggerated, sense of train movement in movies.

Feel free to ask me any technical questions about diesel locomotives, I'm a diesel electrician with Union Pacific. I don't know everything, but I can help.

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk


At MP 195
Here's what needs to happen to make this story a success. The train is really carrying a nuclear or biological weapon. The prisoner is just a front. I rival gang of the prisoner gets word of his transfer. At the same time terrorist get word of the weapon. Both groups find out where the train is and where it is going. Both groups try to "high jack" the train while in route. A terrific battle ensues with everyone being killed except for a female steward and a "trainee" who has only been working for a week and only knows how to talk on the radio. He or she can be female, too. The train is now in a runaway state. All stopping devices were disabled by the two gangs as they battled for control of the train. Also, and this is important, the weapon was activated and will detonate on impa. The train is going down a mountain and slowly picking up speed. The "company" calls in another engineer to talk the "trainee" through stopping the train. This is of no use as everything has been disabled. Now here's where it gets good. The engineer gets in another locomotive and begins to chase the runaway train down. His intent is to couple on to the rear and bring the runaway to a stop just before it crashes into a town and the weapon detonates. Does he succeed? I don't know but there's your story

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