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Runaway Train Disaster Shows Unstoppable Human Courage

Updated on January 20, 2017
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has been a professional writer and critic of films, books, music & theater for over 20 years.

The Crazy Eights - Actual Train in The Film "Unstoppable"

The number of the locomotive was changed for the movie.
The number of the locomotive was changed for the movie. | Source

Crazy Eights Train of Ohio

Engine number 8888 in the stable of CSX Railroad products was sitting in Walbridge in Northwestern Ohio. A long-time engineer in a single-man crew got out of the cab of 8888 - The Crazy Eights - and the train ran away.

It carried a freight haul of hazardous materials in May 2001, just four months prior to the 9/11 disaster in New York. We thought Ohio was going to blow up!

Crazy Eights traveled on its own at up to 47 mph for almost 2 hours from near Toledo to 55 miles northwest of Columbus. It carried a chemically hazardous load in two cars. It was stopped by the efforts of three train men and that story became Unstoppable, the movie.

Infamous Ohio Disasters

Just a few months before the 9/11 Disaster, a runaway train in Northwestern Ohio created a day of havoc and fear throughout the state.

The Crazy Eights Incident

The case of the runaway train in Ohio became known as the Crazy Eights Incident. In fact, 8888 derailed in 2005 to provide a second Incident. Engineer Jesse Knowlton (lives a few miles from me) and Conductor Terry Forson (lives a few more miles away) stopped Crazy Eights in '01 and acted as consultants on the film Unstoppable (2010), also contributing some dialogue.

A handful of local Ohio newspaper and online film critics have downplayed the film and turned up their noses at it, undeservedly so. These critics are lucky that the Crazy Eights didn't blow up their city before 9/11 blew up our whole world. There is more action in the film than one would expect, even from a train disaster, and no special effects.

There is some exaggeration to portray the potential for wide ranging devastation that could have occurred in this incident, but since the real-life heroes of the story are OK with it, what's the problem for a handful of critics? Some critics feel its too unreal and boring . Were they asleep at the switch?

Source

Film Review: Quality of "Unstoppable"

We can remember the adage that when people are bored, it is sometimes because they are boring. We also can consider that addicts and abuse victims sometimes do not hanker for real-life events and healthy people, because those are not exciting enough. One-third more action not exciting enough?

I'm not calling out these critics on mental issues, but I must say that there is plenty of excitement in Unstoppable and more than in the actual event. For an action-adventure drama, historical fiction, and escapism, it is very good. Moreover, the film was produced without any CGI. All the sparks, fires, and collisions are real. The sound is real and the train more frightening than any tornado likened to the roar of a runaway freight train. See the film and you'll see how powerful Superman really was in stopping one.

However -- No sex scenes/strippers and the Hooters Girls are dressed more conservatively than at the actual restaurants. No slashed bodies dripping intestines onto the tracks over pools of blood running onto the parallel highway.

No bodies with 4th degree burns:carbonized - watch the old Signal 30 for that. PG-13 wouldn't like all this sex and carnage.

But there were crashes and fires and destruction - and injuries. The film could have been made at the R level, but the real events were not R-rated except for the language and potential danger, so a lot for kids that need to see the film would not be able to do so, until it was released on DVD. Kids are going to love this adventure. They may even want to work for the railroads afterward.

Unstoppable

Director: Tony Scott (brother of Ridley Scott); Fox Films; 98 minutes

At least 50 talking roles in the film went to local residents. You'll also see someone from Detroit 187. One tense scene is actually at the elevated railroad track and bridge of the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway at Bellaire OH. I have seen that track a couple of times. It looks dangerous, and it is.

Rail Signal.
Rail Signal. | Source

In training, they give you an 'F.' Out here in the real world, you get killed.

— Frank Barnes from "Unstoppable"

2001 News Story on the Crazy Eights Incident

Video Credit: KC8WJG's channel - YouTube

"Out here in the real world, you get killed."

All historical films are historical fiction somewhere along a continuum of degree, unless the dialogues are taken 100% from written and audio records. None of us were at these settings (as Light of Other Days allows us to be) -- We cannot get it all right, and sometimes the filming and the physics (Ye canna change the laws o' phsyics, Jim...) won't let us.

By the way, Chris Pine (Star Trek®'s newest Jim) co-stars as Conductor Will Colson to Denzel Washington's Engineer Frank Barnes. In the film, Will is a rookie, in real life, Terry had 14 months of experience (but not with runaway trains). This is an all-new Training Day type of experience for Washington as well as the new man.

The setting was moved to Pittsburgh with its longer railtroading history and its fantastic rail line curves - more and higher elevated curving tracks than Ohio (we barely have trains, anymore, but we do have some curves). Not until I saw this film did I realize the economic costs of operating a railroad and this one portrayed freight only, except for a short excursion train for visiting school children.

If it is true that privatized passenger railroads cannot break even or make profits in America, that status is more believable in light of this film. Political factions wanting to derail plans for future passenger rail service should just encourage people to see Unstoppable . Except that railroad men are heroes in the film and real life. Which way will sentiment lean?

More importantly, the director shows real blue collar and railroad life in Pennsylvania, with the fears of layoffs and early retirements. Under-staffing is real and a movement to investigate the wisdom of one-man train crews is under way.

Runaway Train in NW Ohio

show route and directions
A markerWalbridge OH -
Walbridge, OH, USA
get directions

B markerKenton OH -
Kenton, OH 43326, USA
get directions

C markerColumbus OH -
Columbus, OH, USA
get directions

My Brother's Name Is Earl

The supporting cast in this film is good. The engineer responsible for the runaway train is Dewey, played by My Name is Earl's Randy (Ethan Suplee).

Suplee may be as solidly type cast after this film as a fence post driven too far into the ground, but he is believable in Unstoppable.

Dewey is about three notches above Randy on the employability scale and you'll enjoy his ultimate fate. Meanwhile, you'll laugh as the roar of the train he lets get away drowns out his F-words. The kids will love that, too.

Rosario Dawson is the high-powered Yardmaster who controls rail yard operations and dispatch as she fights for control of the Crazy Eights (#777 in the film) and against the unworkable plans of her superior. The lead welder from the yard is brave and comic all at once. A lot of the other railroading people and local residents look real, because they are!

© 2010 Patty Inglish

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    • LillyGrillzit profile image

      Lori J Latimer 6 years ago from The River Valley, Arkansas

      Thank you very much for sharing these stories in this Hub. It is lucky for the reader that as a weaver of words, you were able to pull out this beautiful work. The Best to you.

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 6 years ago from Northern, California

      This is fascinating! How proud you must feel that these real rail hero's are also your neighbors. I cheer Hollywood in their casting of local actors, a boost in the economy must be another reason for movie goers to support this film. I like that they down-play the unneeded sex and guts and CGI, simply making a good movie for everyone to enjoy. It is curious that they didn't use '8888' and instead went with '777' legal reasons I suppose, but the missing '7' seems to bother me. ;)

      I can't wait to see this flick. An absolutely great review Patty.

      K9

    • earnestshub profile image

      earnestshub 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Very well written, it held me to the end, thank you.

    • Deborah Demander profile image

      Deborah Demander 6 years ago from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD

      This fascinating hub is a great prelude to an awesome movie. I live in a train town, and love trains. Can't wait to see Unstoppable.

      Thanks for hilighting these hero's.

      Namaste.

    • Stan Fletcher profile image

      Stan Fletcher 6 years ago from Nashville, TN

      Because of this article, I'm seeing this movie today. Thanks for writing such a great piece.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
      Author

      Patty Inglish 6 years ago from North America

      Thanks for reading this review. This one was fun to write and you can see the objective info-for-parents verson at kids-in-mind DOT com.

      I hope a book version of the film is written soon.

    • stars439 profile image

      stars439 6 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

      Wonderful hub. GBY.

    • profile image

      EnLydia Listener 6 years ago

      I enjoyed reading this...you really personalized the movie for us.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

      I thought you did an excellent job of writing this review. It was very interesting. I would like to read the book.

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

      I love train very much. Thanks for share this information. I love the video and all the story behind this. Good work, Patty. Rating up!

      Prasetio:)

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Patty, this is great! Okay now you made me want to see the movie! LOL

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

      As always a fascinating hub and very detailed written it felt I was there and met these people. Thank you for the pleasure of reading it.

    • profile image

      teleri 6 years ago

      Saw the movie w/my parents - my dad's old-fashioned & its hard to find movies that are nowadays - this was an EXCELLENT film, had me on the edge of my seat! Thank you for filling in the details of the real incident the film was based on!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
      Author

      Patty Inglish 6 years ago from North America

      Thanks for reding anc commenting!

      Hello hello, I'm going to see it agtain and then drive up beside the tracks where it really happened.

      teleri - Glad you liked the film. I think it's pretty good!

    • Stan Fletcher profile image

      Stan Fletcher 6 years ago from Nashville, TN

      Saw the movie Saturday and your hub was in the back of my mind the whole time. I felt like I was the only one in the theatre who knew the 'real scoop'. Excellent hub, and excellent movie.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
      Author

      Patty Inglish 6 years ago from North America

      That sounds like fun, Stan- a little background and a secret or two while watching. I'm going back to see it again soon.

    • Bail Up ! profile image

      Bail Up ! 6 years ago

      What's a story without a bit of embellishment? Some people just don't know how to have fun! I think the story itself is fascinating and worthy of watching the movie. Thanks for review, I'll be watching Unstoppable.

    • Ben Zoltak profile image

      Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

      I love that you stand up to the critics and stand against the much maligned American train industry. Just like solid funding for education, the results are not necessarily easily quantified (per profitably) but the increase in wealth and happiness is apparent in the long term.

      In the driving instructor industry we say, "always expect a train."

      UNSTOPPABLE INDEED!!!

      Ben

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
      Author

      Patty Inglish 6 years ago from North America

      @Bail Up - Let us know how you like it. Thanks for posting.

      @Ben Zoltak - Thank you, Ben Zoltak. I always appreciate your posts.

    • JulieBMack profile image

      JulieBMack 6 years ago from Colorado

      thanks for this review - I wasn't aware that is was tied into a real story. Good action films don't always require CGI - look at The Fugitive (I am dating myself) - another great movie that actually involved a real train going off the track! Thanks!

    • profile image

      movies star 6 years ago

      After reading this hub.

      Maybe you are right about the children want to work for

      the railroads.

      good.... thank you.

    • profile image

      misSbLurRy 6 years ago

      i just watched this movie and i can't imagine how its worse at that time...and thanx 4 this hub coz it made me more clearly bout this accident .

    • profile image

      LaChelle 6 years ago

      I just watched the movie(loved it:)) and immediatley began searching for the details on the actual event. Thank you for sharing the history behind the film and highlighting the heroes

    • profile image

      Jenny 6 years ago

      Saw this film yesterday and went searching for the real story to fill in my dim memory of events. Film critics found this film boring? Were they at the right movie? I was on the edge of my seat for most of the time and I'm glad it wasn't longer - I'm not sure my heart would have lasted! Best action/drama flick I've seen in a very long time and have recommended it to my friends and family. Thanks for the information.

    • AskAshlie3433 profile image

      AskAshlie3433 6 years ago from WEST VIRGINIA

      What a great story. I liked the movie. It kept me interested. To the Queen of Hub Patty, another great hub!

      1400 plus and counting, truly remarkable Patty. Just wanted to say hi to the Queen! Best wishes Patty. You truly are remarkable.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
      Author

      Patty Inglish 6 years ago from North America

      Thank you so much to all of you that have commented!

      @Julie, Jenny and LaChelle - I was certainly not bored with the story and it caused me to want to search out the newspaper files and magazine articles.

      @AskAshlie3433 - Thanks for the kind words! It took quite a while to build up a number of Hubs and I find that writing one a day is the key to a certain kind of success.

    • Support Med. profile image

      Support Med. 6 years ago from Michigan

      Clever edition of: "This is an all-new Training Day type of experience for Washington as well as the new man." That was a really good movie!! I have not yet seen 'Unstoppable,' but will definitely purchase once it's on DVD. I can only imagine it is somewhat similar to 'Speed' with Keanu Reeves. Not surprised critics turned their noses to it, as they do not want to face the 'what could have happened.' And of course, we are all glad that no was harmed in any way. Those men were really brave. Voted and rated.

    • profile image

      brent 6 years ago

      That video was awesome cool nice video

    • The Jet profile image

      The Jet 5 years ago from The Bay

      I was skeptical about this film, but I believe you've sparked interest. Thanks.

    • profile image

      Indonesian_Lady 5 years ago

      watched this movie several days ago... after finished watching it, i immediately search abt the true event on google... both of them, the conductor and the engineer are really a true hero.. even tho the real incident not as "scary" as the movie.. but still.. u need a lot of courage and guts to do that.... i'm giving my deepest respect to them... and will tell all my fella's in Indonesia to watch this amazing based-on-true-events-movie!!!

    • profile image

      Belinda Tang 5 years ago

      One of the better-filmed action movies I have seen in a while. What impressed me is the entire set feels very real, not only the working class workers but how the scenes were shot without CG. Something very solid about this movie that spoke to me. The honest hard-working man in the street with courage at the core.

      Plus it was based on a real story too! Kudos to the real life chaps who stopped the train, you are heros. I don't know if phenol was the load in real life...phenol is heavy duty stuff, real bad news (when I was working in a laboratory, we all had a healthy respect for handling phenol).

      Excellent!!!

    • profile image

      NOVA PATTERSON 5 years ago

      I WAS WATCHING THE MOVIE --WHAT THE HECK- THEY TALKING

      PA-THIS HAPPENED RIGHT HERE IN WALBRIDGE--THEN I SEE

      THEY USED PA-I THINK THEY SHOULD HAVE USED THE LINE

      IT WAS ON-THE YARD MASTER IS A COUSIN-AND HALF THE

      CSX PEOPLE ARE FROM WVA. GREAT MOVIE -BUT I LIKE IT

      WHEN THEY MAKE A DOCUMENTARY -BETTER .

    • profile image

      Linda 5 years ago

      Saw this movie for the first time (and only the last half, unfortunately) today, and thought it was great. It inspired me to search for the "real" story. Thanks so much for the facts. I can't wait to see the entire movie again. I love trains, and travel Amtrak whenever possible rather than flying or driving--have taken days-long trips in the sleeper cars cross-country, traveled coach and business class--I just love the rails, so this movie was facsinating to me.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
      Author

      Patty Inglish 5 years ago from North America

      Linda - I enjoyed your comment. I plan to take a cross-country trip by train in 2012. We've barely any passenger trains in Ohio now - one stop in Cincinnati and 3 or 4 across Lake Erie. I think we need more, especially since Greyhound Bus service was cut back a few years back.

    • profile image

      Commuter Rail 5 years ago

      I operate commuter trains in the San Francisco Bay Area. Train "777" would be a train traveling between Pittsburg/Baypoint and San Francisco airport that for whatever reason has been removed from service, or will be when it reaches the end of the line. An incident train where something major had occurred would most likely be renamed "950" or 95something, anyway.

    • profile image

      Commuter Rail 5 years ago

      I was on the edge of my seat throughout the movie. But then, they didn't have to spice up the story to make it scary to me. I've woken up many times from dreams about trains that won't stop when they should. But my worst nightmares are where I'm expected to drive a Bus instead of a Train. Truly the stuff of nightmares. ;)

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
      Author

      Patty Inglish 5 years ago from North America

      Thanks for the information. "777" was used only for the film, but the film was also set in Pittsburgh, instead of Ohio. Since that is a fiction for the film, probably more exciting than NW Ohio, there'd be no real re-numbering, but now we know what it would have been. Thanks again.

    • Warren Baldwin profile image

      Warren Baldwin 5 years ago from Kansas

      Great article.

    • profile image

      Talia 5 years ago

      I love the movie, being from Ohio I think it portrayed the story great.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
      Author

      Patty Inglish 5 years ago from North America

      Denzell Washington certainly turned in a vivid portrayal!

    • profile image

      Anne C 5 years ago

      I just watched Unstoppable for the second time. Even though I knew the ending I was still on the edge of my seat. I usally love the movies critics hate and this was a great movie. I can do without all the sex and blood I thought it was great movie. I love your piece on it I found it very interesting since I am from Southwestern Ohio. I don't even remember hearing about this story.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
      Author

      Patty Inglish 5 years ago from North America

      Thanks for your comments. Anne C. This is a film I can watch more than once, too. I didn't hear much about it in Central Ohio, either, when it first occurred.

    • profile image

      IntegrityYes 4 years ago

      I definitely voted up. That is a wonderful one,patty. It is so powerful and emotional.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
      Author

      Patty Inglish 4 years ago from North America

      It is a fantastic movie that keeps your attention!

    • profile image

      Eddie Knudsen 4 years ago

      The movie is fantastic!! I am a train fanatic and found the action and story line very believable. Thank you for bringing to light the real story.

    • profile image

      Ray, Hanover PA 4 years ago

      Patty I have to agree with what pretty much everyone else has said, y ou did a great job putting a face on the story behind the story! I just finished watching Unstoppable, very entertaining! Excellent casting of Frank Barnes and Will Colton. No doubt about it, the film maker did an excellent job portraying this story, with the Hollywood embelishments included. I have always been fascinated by the railroad and this movie made me do some research into the original accident and other rail road stuff. My hats off to you for a great job putting this hub together! =-D

    • profile image

      Bill 3 years ago

      My Grand Father worked on the old Central Railroad years ago, so trains are in my blood and I have always regretted not entering into this respectful and challenging career. But anyway thank you so much for your true story from the other side, I really appreciate it and the show was not all bad. Actually pretty good. Thanks. Oh by the way, was the engineer retiring and did he get his job for life?

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
      Author

      Patty Inglish 3 years ago from North America

      Jon Hosfeld, age 62 now, was one of the railroad men that chased the train. He retired after 37 years with the railroad. Hosfeld, Knowlton and Forson were interviewed by several of the media and met President Bush 43.

      Terry Forson and Jess Knowlton were or are members of UTU Local 1397, Columbus, Ohio. I saw a picture of both men with Denzel Washington in November 2010. I think that Mr. Knowlton is retired now, although Terry also has grey hair.

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