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Thursday July 18th 2024

Unstoppable | 2010

Unstoppable location: the dangerous ‘Stanton Curve’: Bellaire, Ohio
Unstoppable location: the dangerous ‘Stanton Curve’: Bellaire, Ohio

On the day a slobby-looking train driver gets careless with safety standards, an inexperienced newbie rail conductor, Will Colson (Chris Pine), is paired with experienced old hand Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) and a class of schoolkids boards a train for a ‘railway safety campaign’, what could possibly go wrong?

Tony Scott, with his customary kinetic style, assembles a poundingly effective runaway train thriller, inspired by the 2001 ‘Crazy Eights Incident’, an out-of-control engine which careered 66 miles from Toledo, Ohio, before being stopped at Kenton. The name came from the engine’s number – 8888 – which is changed to 777 for the film.

Unstoppable location: Bellaire, Ohio
Unstoppable location: the bridge approach to the dangerous ‘Stanton Curve’: Bellaire, Ohio

The movie used privately owned tracks in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York State and West Virginia. These included the Wheeling & Lake Erie tracks between Wheeling and Steubenville, Ohio. In Pennsylvania, the film-makers used a scenic section of the Nittany & Bald Eagle line, running in the area around State College.

The railway yard scenes were filmed at the home of the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad, the Brewster Rail Yard, just south of Canton.

The stop at ‘Wheeling, Northern Pennsylvania’, where children board the ‘Railroad Safety Campaign’ train, is the Wayne Street crossing in the town of Olean, New York State. The train actually ran a few miles south across the state line to Eldred, Pennsylvania.

As 777 threatens to get seriously out of control, the only hope of yardmaster Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson) is to get employee Ned (Lew Temple) to jump into his truck and get a couple of engineers ahead of the train. The diner where Ned gets her call is Sunset West, 521 East College Avenue, Pleasant Gap. But it’s all in vain when it turns out the engine is running at speed under full power.

Although the map seen in the movie’s control centre shows the names of some real towns, they’re not necessarily in the correct order, and they’re mixed with a sprinkling of fictitious names.

‘Findlay’, where the speeding train crashes through the (recently vacated) horse trailer, is the Champlin Hill Road rail crossing in Turtlepoint, Pennsylvania.

‘Keating Summit’, where Ned finally does manage to get ahead of 777 and there’s an ill-fated attempt to land a marine on the train by copter, is East Allegany Avenue, in Emporium, Pennsylvania.

Brief diversions away from the trains are provided by cutaways to the restrained elegance of Hooters of Monroeville, 3498 William Penn Highway, Pittsburgh, where Franks’s two daughters are working – and keeping up with events on TV news.

When a plan to derail the 777 with explosives fails miserably, the train blithely ploughs on through the town of ‘Arklow’, which is the junction of Washington Avenue at West 13th Street, in Tyrone.

The last chance to avoid disaster is to slow the juggernaut down before it hits the notorious ‘Stanton Curve’.

This location was not in the original script, but was spotted by director Scott during a helicopter recce of railroads, and the script rewritten to take advantage of the treacherous-looking bend.

The line is at Bellaire in Ohio, alongside the Ohio River crossing from West Virginia. Those extremely convincing fuel tanks – which would seem to have been placed without much concern for health and safety regulations – were added digitally to what is mostly empty ground at the junction of Hamilton Street and 32nd Street.