Atomic Train

Atomic Train
Atomic Train

Theatrical release poster
Directed by David Jackson
Dick Lowry
Written by Jeff Fazio et al.
Starring Rob Lowe
Kristin Davis
Esai Morales
John Finn
Mena Suvari
Distributed by Trimark Home Video
Release date(s) September 21, 1999
Running time 168 minutes
Language English

Atomic Train is a 1999 action-thriller film about an accidental nuclear explosion destroying the city of Denver. It was originally broadcast on NBC as a two-part miniseries.



A waste disposal company has a Russian nuclear bomb to transport, and an employee decides to save money by concealing it on a freight train. This train is also loaded with hazardous and flammable chemicals including metallic sodium which spontaneously ignites on contact with water. The train suffers a brake failure and becomes a runaway heading for Denver. John Seger, a heroic NTSB investigator, boards the train and with the assistance of the railwaymen tries various ways to stop the train. Several ideas are tried, such as coupling a following train to the caboose (the coupling mechanism on the caboose breaks), a derailing attempt (after it is revealed the catastrophe the chemicals would cause if ignited) in which a helicopter narrowly avoids being hit, and finally, an attempt at manually activating the brakes (via hitting a part of the engine mechanism with a wrench). The final attempt works successfully, but is short-lived. The following rescue train, unaware of the freight's slowing, speeds forward and crushes the caboose (killing an injured member in the process). The force disengages the brakes, causing the train to speed up once again. Meanwhile, Denver residents are struggling to collect their families and then leave town, despite rioters and gridlock. Realizing that there is no way to stop it, John and the engineer (who was initially reluctant) abandon the train by jumping off before it can speed up too much.

The train derails and becomes a terrific wreck. Discovering the now highly unstable bomb on-board, firefighters struggle to put out the fire at the crash site. The misinterpretation of a radio call to a water bombing helicopter leads it to dump its load onto the wreck. Water comes into contact with the metallic sodium, which explodes and in turn causes the nuclear bomb to detonate. The blast causes severe damage throughout Denver and releases an electromagnetic pulse. No cars work, electricity is down and anything with a computer is shut down.

Plot and factual flaws

The movie is notorious for its factual and plot oversights. Most often quoted is that the train is said to become a runaway when it is still 300 miles west of Denver with a continuous decline ahead. Since this would place it on the other side of the Continental Divide, it should be going generally uphill for most of the first 250 miles, a critical plot flaw.

Furthermore, for safety reasons all trains are fitted with Westinghouse air brakes. In the event of a failure, such as an air leak like that which occurs in the movie, the brakes would be fully applied and thus stopping the train rather than rendering it a runaway.

Almost all railway cars and locomotives have handbrakes for 1, more or all axles. No one on the train applies it, althogh they are near the wheel! On the summit were the train practically comes to a stand still it would have been easy to apply some handbrakes and prevent the train rolling down.

One of the biggest flaws is that although the movie takes place in Denver, the Denver skyline is actually never shown. Many city skyline shots show the Vancouver skyline in Canada. Buildings can be seen with Canada Trust or the Bank of Nova Scotia logos.

The caboose is uncoupled from the train, but just before the train crashes, for a split second, the caboose can be seen still connected to the train .

An electromagnetic pulse can shut down electronics, but between 3 MHz and 30 MHz, it doesn't have the power to shut down everything in a major city.

Nuclear weapons cannot be triggered by an external explosion. They contain multiple shaped explosives that must be triggered in a precise sequence to evenly compress the weapons-grade plutonium or highly-enriched uranium inside.

See IMDb Atomic Train Goofs for a thorough list.


  • Won the Golden Reel Award (2000) for "Best Sound Editing - Television Mini-Series - Effects and Foley"
  • Nominated for Golden Reel Award (2000) for "Best Sound Editing - Television Mini-Series - Dialogue and ADR"

See also


External links

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