As the story opens, we learn about the main characters. Because of a court
“restraining order,” Will can’t come near his wife and son. Frank and other
long-time railroad employees are getting fired so that the company can save
money by hiring young workers like Will. Frank takes his job seriously, but
for Will, it’s just a new job. There is obvious tension between older and
While Frank and Will work in one part of Pennsylvania, other railroad
employees are creating space in the yard for a special train for
children, who are learning about railroad safety. But an engineer “bends”
company rules, jumping out of his engine to change a switch; unfortunately,
he can’t get back in, and soon we have a “missile” speeding down the tracks
with no driver. It is carrying toxic chemicals, and threatens the
safety of many PA towns.
News helicopters and reporters give people “live” pictures of the train,
and explain the danger. Then railroad officials estimate that if they
intentionally derail the train, it could cost over $100 million, plus
destroy the value of the company’s stock. Instead, they come up with a plan
to use a chopper to get an engineer onto the train, but it doesn’t
work. Another failed plan was to use guns to shoot a tiny "stop button" as
the train sped by. Later, when they try to derail the train, that doesn’t work
Meanwhile, Frank and Will are on the same track; the two trains are heading
for each other, but Frank is a long way from a safe place to stop. After
their trains narrowly miss each other, Frank and Will defy their boss, and
chase the train. They are risking their lives to save all the people
(including family members) in Stanton, which would be destroyed if the
speeding train falls off the tracks at a sharp curve in town.
Nouns/verbs (vocabulary): (* means key vocabulary for my students!)
*to can (canned): to fire from
one’s job (“Jane was canned last week for always coming in late.”)
*cargo: goods that are being carried by
train, airplane, etc.; freight ("What are we worried about in terms of
*to coast: to keep moving
without aid of power (“My bike chain fell off, but I can coast to
the repair station.” “Don’t just coast through life; think, plan,
and take control!”) If a train is a “coaster” it is slowing down, without
a driver, but this train isn’t a “coaster”—its motor is speeding up.
benefits): (adj) happening at the same time, and esp. damage to
property or innocent people in a war or man-made disaster
*combustible: able to burn, esp
to produce heat or an explosion
conductor: the train worker who
is in charge of a train—where it goes, paperwork, etc.
to decimate: to destroy a large
part of sth
to derail: literally, to go off
the track/rail, but figuratively to spoil a plan or process (“Mr. Gray’s
attitude derailed our contract negotiations.”)
engineer: the train worker who
operates/drives the train
*to gauge=to measure
(especially in relation to a specific size/volume/distance/etc.) (“I’ll
stand in front of the car to help you gauge the distance to the
mph=abbreviation for "miles per
hour", a common measure of speed (60 mph=100 km per hour)
*to patch: to fix, by joining
things together (to “patch in” means to electronically include a third
person in a phone/radio conversation)
ramp: a triangle-shaped device/slope, that
makes it easier for a car (cart, wheelchair, etc.) to move up or down
(such as to drive onto the sidewalk); ("The derailer works like a ramp.")
RIP track: “repair in place”
siding; a short section of railroad track on which equipment can be parked
when the need for maintenance/repairs is not serious enough to require a
trip to a formal repair shop
*rookie: a new worker, esp.
someone in his/her first year on the job (“Every day, veterans are
canned and rookies are hired because their wages are
throttle: equipment that
controls fuel, and thus the speed of an engine (“full throttle”=full
*veteran/vet: someone with a
lot of experience in a specific job or activity, or anyone who has been in
the army, navy, etc.
yard or train yard: a
“storage” place where engines and train cars wait to be directed elsewhere
*“to have a thing for sb”: to
have a crush on someone, or quietly/secretly want a closer (sexual)
“to play chicken”
(“chicken”=afraid): a stupid, dangerous 1950s “game”, where two drivers
would drive toward each other—whoever turned first (to avoid a crash),
lost the game
“to serve me with”: to give
(me) an official document that I’d rather not have (like when a lawyer
gives you divorce papers)
*“Bail!”: (short for “Bail
out”) immediately stop doing what you are doing and get away (“The pilot
bailed out, jumping from his airplane after it was destroyed by the
“Cut me some slack”: “Give me a
break”; “Overlook this mistake, okay?”
*“I’m not at liberty to give
you that information.” Polite “business talk” when refusing to answer
*"It's your call." "This is your decision;
it is up to you to decide." This is sometimes used to give someone the
authority to decide what would normally be decided by a superior.
*“the kicker” (AmE): a strange
ending to a story or event
“(my/your) ass” (slang,
offensive; one of several meanings!): someone specifically and personally
[“It’s my ass”=I, personally, will get in trouble for this stupid mistake.
“I’ll save your ass”=I’ll do this to protect you, personally, from the
consequences of this stupid mistake]
"We can use all the help we can get." This
is used to say "yes" to an offer to help or suggestion that might help
“yellow vest”: this refers to
the “safety vest” that train rookies have to wear, which lets
everyone know they don’t have much experience. It is not unusual to
require “new” workers to identify themselves, especially when a job is
Everyone should know how to write correct conditional sentences with
“if…then…”: you need to use the “past perfect” tense. had+past
participle (see below)
1. If Will had kept his phone off, then his train would have fit into the
2. If Dewey hadn’t gotten out of the cab, then the train wouldn’t have
gotten out of control. (trains can’t “lose control”, but people can…)
--past participle [countable] technical: the form of a verb used with
the verb 'to have' in perfect tenses (for example, 'I have eaten'),
or with the verb 'to be' in the passive (for example, 'it was changed'),
or sometimes as an adjective (for example, 'a broken leg')
had been, had called, had obeyed, hadn’t risked, had sped,
had trusted, had arrived, had fallen, had set, had seen…
Note: Most pp are regular (risk, risked, have risked; call, called,
have called; leave, left, left), but some pp are irregular (swim, swam, have
swum; set, set, set; get, got, gotten; fall, fell, fallen; see, saw, seen)
Note: For this assignment, I may also accept modal conditional sentences,
that use a modal plus have instead of had. Example: If the
leaders could have seen the future, then they would have made fewer
Sentences/dialogs from the movie:
(only a few of these came from IMDB, but
imdb's website is a great place to find movie facts and more)
1. (Will, a rookie, introduces himself and gives papers to Frank, saying
that they will be working together today. As Frank looks at the train’s
papers, two other workers stare at Will.)
Will: Is there a problem?
One: No problem. I just don’t like working at a damn day-care center.
Will: Well, I don’t like working at a retirement home, so…
(Frank breaks up this hostility, and tells Will to meet him on “the
wagon”, i.e., the engine.)
Two: You know that punk’s union, right? (He complains that Will got
hired because his uncles and brother work for the company.)
One: That figures. Here, they are canning people every day, but
if you have the right last name and a rookie’s paygrade… you’ve got a
2. Bunny: Dewey, Gilleece. Sorry to break up charm school, but what the
hell is that beast still doing on D-16? I told you I need that track clear.
Gileece (he and his coworker are eating and chatting): Relax, buddy.
We were just about to move it.
Bunny: Like hell you are. I’ve got 150 school students coming in on
some field trip on D-16. I need that track clear. [The “field trip” is
called Railroad Safety Campaign: a not-for-profit program designed to
educate children about railway safety.]
3. Bunny: What’s taking you so long?
Dewey: It’s a 39-car consist. The thing’s a half mile long. Gilleece,
can you believe this shit?
Gilleece: Hey, hold up. You forgot to tie the air in from the point.
Dewey: Yeah, so?
Gilleece: So, you don’t have any air brakes.
Dewey: You can tie the hoses once we got her parked and Bunny’s quit
4. Frank Barnes: How long have you been out of training?
Will Colson: About four months. How long you been railroading?
Frank: 28 years.
5. Friend (on the phone): Looks like you got a break. The lawyer called.
They’ve moved your hearing up to this morning.
Will (not happy): That’s great, but did you tell him I’m working? I
can’t come in.
Friend: He said no problem, man.
Frank (annoyed because Will is on the phone instead of doing his
work): Are we ready to pull out, or what?
6. Gilleece: You’re at 29 cars. You got 10 to go. You’re good. (Dewey
can’t answer because he is messing with the radio, changing the
battery—which should have been done earlier) Dewey? Dewey?
Dewey: Hold your horses.
Gilleece: What’s wrong?
Dewey: Damn trailing point switch. The track’s aligned for D-16.
Gilleece: What’s your stopping distance?
Dewey: At least 20 cars to a stop. Damn it!
Gilleece: Okay, so we back it up and lose a little time.
Dewey: I’m hopping out.
Gilleece (running up): Do not get out of that cab, man!
Dewey: Don’t worry…
(Somehow, the train’s auto switch kicks in after Dewey leaves the cab,
the train speeds up, and Dewey—who is overweight—can’t catch up. Other
workers laugh at Dewey as the train speeds down the track without a driver.)
7. (Will makes another little mistake. Frank is polite, but annoyed.)
Frank: Like I said, if you don’t know something, just ask.
Will (nonchalant): I got it. Whatever.
Frank: Excuse me?
Will: This shit. This “let’s make the new guy prove himself” bullshit.
I gotta tell you, I’ve heard it before and it gets old real fast.
Frank: Well, that’s how it is at the retirement home. The company
wants to get rid of us old heads. They give all the jobs to you new guys,
you “yellow vests”.
Will: I’m not trying to take anything from anybody.
Frank: As reassuring as that is, a lot of guys don’t see it that way.
8.* (Connie arrives a bit late because she had to
pick up boxes of doughnuts for the kids--see #2. Someone on the phone calls
Dewey’s train a “coaster.”)
Connie: How the hell did this happen?
Dewey: It just got away from me.
Connie: It got away from you? It's a train,
Dewey, not a chipmunk! [a chipmunk is a small pet]
Dewey: I had to leave the cab to throw a
Connie (in disbelief): You left the cab?
Geleece: Yeah, and it gets worse. The air
brakes weren’t tied on.
Connie: We’ve got an unmanned train rolling
into opposing traffic with no brakes, is that what you’re telling me?
Dewey: I set the independent brakes. That’ll
for sure stop it.
Connie: How fast is it going?
Dewey: No more than 10 miles per [hour].
(about 12 km per hour)
Connie: Okay. Jump on the hi-rail and go
after it. NOW! (to a dispatcher) Call the field trip. I don’t care
where they are, they need to get into the nearest siding.
(A “hi-rail” is basically a truck that rides
on rails instead of the road. Next, Connie calls Ned—who is always late for
work—and tells him to “throw a switch” that will put the “coaster” onto a
siding. They don’t know yet that it is going too fast, and getting faster.)
9. Frank: Married?
Will: Yeah. Well, sort of. It's a long story.
Frank: We got a long day.
Will (after a pause, because he doesn’t want to talk about it): How
about you, you married?
Frank: Short story. Once. Got two beautiful daughters, though; 18, 19.
They are both waitressing, trying to work their way through college.
Will: Yeah? Where at? (i.e., which restaurant do they work at?)
Frank: Hooters. That’s right, Hooters. Wipe that grin off your face.
Will: I’m a fan.
Frank: You’re blushing. (both laugh) I’m used to it.
(Hooters is popular with men because they only hire beautiful
women—who wear sexy uniforms. Frank means that a lot of people make jokes
about where his daughters work, but Hooters waitresses make a lot of money
10. Connie: Who the hell are you?
Scott: I’m here for the Railroad Safety Campaign. Scott Werner, FRA
Region 2, Federal Safety Inspector. I’m supposed to give a presentation to
(Connie is upset that a “stranger” is in her office during this
unpleasant situation, so she not-so-politely pushes him out of her office
and asks Bunny to help Scott get to the right place for his presentation.
But later, he helps out by giving important information.)
11. (When Ned arrives too late to throw the switch, Connie figures out that
the train is not a coaster, it is “under power.”)
Connie: I need you to rally every cell in that brain of yours. When
you applied the independent (brake), was the throttle in the forward
Dewey: Yeah. I had to get it moving. The throttle was in notch 8, full
power. It was 39 cars!
Connie: Ned, get back in your car and follow the main line. I want a
set of eyes on that train.
Ned: You’ve got ‘em. Roger that.
12. (Will is on the phone again, getting bad news. His friend says the
judge “was a real hard-ass” and thus “the restraining order is being
continued for another 30 days.”)
Frank: Will, pick up the radio! Are you there? Get off the phone,
knock off the hand brakes, get up here. It’s time to go. We got work to do.
13.* (As they pull out of the yard, Frank sees
that Will made a mistake while on the phone. He “cut in”—included—too many
cars. They argue about it, but Will knows it is his fault.)
Will (angry): I’ve had my training! All
Frank: Yeah, but we’re out here in the real
world. This ain't training. In training they just give you an F. Out here,
you get killed.
Will: I screwed up, okay?
Frank (calm): Yes, you did. (Will suggests that they go back.)
We can’t stop out here on the main line. We’re more than a mile out on the
main, more than a mile to the next stop… We’ll just green sheet it (admit
the mistake) and roll on.
Will: Come on, if we green sheet it, it’s my ass. Cut me
(They argue some more; Will says it’s “his train” because he’s the
conductor, but Frank refuses to turn back because he doesn’t want to be
late. Then he starts laughing, which makes Will angry again.)
Will: Something’s funny? What are you laughing at?
Frank: Because it’s funny. You’re a funny guy. Well-trained, but