Unstoppable, starring Chris Pine and Denzel Washington, was released ten years ago and tells the story of an incident involving a runaway train and the efforts to stop it. The autonomous train is moving at a speed of about 80 miles per hour. Phenol, a toxic chemical, is contained in many of its packagings.
Before it becomes a catastrophe that claims lives, someone needs to intervene. Approximately two hours of time pass in Unstoppable.
How much of Unstoppable is based on actual events?
The true story of a runaway freight train inspired the plot of “Unstoppable.” In 2001, as the engineer of CSX 8888 was attempting to realign a faulty switch, he was injured. He thought the brakes were correctly adjusted before he left the dock.
However, at that moment, the train’s air brakes had been cut, therefore the train was free to run without any effective automated brakes. The engineer jumped back on as it picked up speed. Before he was finally released, the train had traveled 80 feet (and 65 miles) without him.
The hundreds of gallons of molten phenol stored in the railway’s two tank cars posed a threat in addition to the fact that the train was out of control and could not be stopped remotely. Any release of the poisonous chemical would kill everybody in its path. The movie also depicted this specific aspect.
The police attempted shooting at the emergency fuel shut-off switch, but all of their attempts to remotely derail the train failed. But nothing worked, so officials resorted to using a different train.
Locomotive #8392, manned by Engineer Jess Knowlton and Conductor Terry Forson, disengaged from freight train Q636-15. They caught up to the errant vehicle and hitched it to the tail end vehicle. When the train’s speed had been decreased to 18 km/h, another trainmaster, Jon Hosfeld, rushed alongside it, climbed aboard, and permanently shut it down.
As a result of the accident, the train sustained damage to several of its components; nevertheless, after being repaired, it underwent a series of upgrades and alterations, one of which was a new serial number. The engineer’s name, whose oversight caused the disaster, was kept secret, unlike in the movie. Additionally, nobody was hurt in the mishap.
The movie borrows a few scenes from this actual event and adds a little of drama to make it more exciting. However, the producers aimed for a realistic depiction, so they consulted engineer Jess Knowlton to nail down the specifics.
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The reality behind Unstoppable is amazing, albeit not quite as dramatic as the book.
The poisonous chemical-laden train only traveled about 66 miles in around two hours, making the chase about as exciting as an elementary school word problem and about as terrifying as a Michael Myers pursuit scene.
But it isn’t to suggest that some truly extraordinary things didn’t happen at the same time as the disaster. There were several hilarious attempts to halt the speeding train, including a staged derailment that backfired when the equipment usually used to bang choo-choos off the tracks was battered by the speeding locomotive.
It appears that local police tried to shoot the emergency fuel stop button on the engine, despite the fact that it would have required to be held down continually for the button to have done its function. If Thomas the Tank Engine ever decides to turn against humanity, no army on Earth will be able to stop him.
The age-old adage, “the only thing that can stop a train is another train, maybe with a third train left somewhere down the line just in case,” proved true for CSX 8888 in the end.
After the runaway caboose had gone through Dunkirk, Ohio, a second engine with two engineers aboard was ordered in pursuit. This was a particularly amazing aspect of the adventure, with the stray engine apparently reaching speeds of more than 50 mph in its last moments.
The two brave railroad workers eventually caught up to CSX 8888, coupled it to their engine, and applied the brakes, slowing the locomotive down enough for a third engineer to get on the front of the train and turn off that annoying throttle.
Three engines were ready to try to prevent 8888 from advancing forward, but they were ultimately superfluous.
After averting a potential catastrophe, everyone involved received kudos and went home to wait for the true reward: learning who will be portrayed by Denzel Washington in a future film.