How difficult is it to run on top of a moving train?

So I’m flipping channels the other night and I happen across a Dolph Lundgren movie. He’s chasing somebody inside a train.

My, um, train of thought: Hey, it’s Dolph Lundgren. What kind of a name is Dolph? Hm, I wonder if this is his Punisher movie; makes sense some producer would capitalize on the new version and… Oh, great, they’re climbing up on top of the train, didn’t see that coming, how many times does the chase go up on— Huh. Dolph runs kinda funny, doesn’t he?..

Which led me to think about all the movie scenes of people running on top of trains. Normally, we’re not that close to the actor, so they can use a stunt guy, and when we do go to closeup, it’s impossible to tell how fast the train is moving. This time, it was sort of a medium shot, meaning they had the actual actor, and it was obvious Dolph was being fairly careful, watching his feet, keeping his arms out in an unusual position, almost as if he were running on a tightrope, except of course that the “tightrope” is a couple of meters wide.

I can’t recall ever being on a train, so maybe this is something I just don’t know about, but do the cars rock back and forth that much while the train is in motion? Or are there protrusions or surface features over which an unattentive runner might stumble? Basically, would it really be as dangerous and difficult to run on top of it as Dolph made it appear, or is he just a wuss? :wink:
P.S. Apropos of nothing much, it wasn’t his Punisher flick after all.

Well I’ve never tried to run on top of a train, but they do sway irregularly when in motion, and there’s also the apparent headwind to blow you around.

Surely a big part of what’ll make it difficult is getting on top of the moving train in the first place. I’ve had a look at the ones that go into the centre of town, and they don’t appear to have any handy ladders down the side, or even windows that will open more than a couple of inches. So unless you or Dolph are proposing breaking a window, which is obviously unthinkable, I’m afraid you will have to confine your fisticuffs to the passenger compartment. Now could you step out of the aisle, please, I need to get the trolley through. Cornish pasty, Dolph? That’ll be £1.40.

Summary: it’s not allowed. Not on Scotrail anyway.

What about between cars, though? The trains here have doors at the end of each car, “for emergencies only.” Someone could open the door and hoist themselves to the roof, I think.

Not without immediately feeling the firm but fair grip of a British Bobbie on their shoulder, they wouldn’t. “Excuse me,” he’d say, “But would you mind not doing that?” Highly embarrassed, you and Dolph would sink back into your seats with a muttered apology, and that would be the end of the film.

The little city trains here probably have similar doors. The intercities just let you wander all the way along the train like you owned it. That would probably suit your scenario. Will you settle for running about very fast inside the train instead?

Ah. You’re a Briton, then. Your location field is blank, so I couldn’t tell.

We have no cops on the trains here, so I think it could be done.

I think there was a certain amount of artistic licence in his post. I don’t think it’s the normal state of affairs here either. :slight_smile:

There are security officers on trains, including the conductor (who is actually in charge of the train - the engineer is essentially just the driver). There also used to be what were known as railroad “bulls” who were security officers within the trainyard themselves. These were not men to be trifled with, even in the best of times (my father, who worked for the RF&P RR for more than 40 years tells me they (the bulls) regularly beat the shit out of guys trying to hop cars just for kicks). If you ever get a chance, see the movie “Emperor of the North.” It concerns a freight train bull, played by Ernest Borgnine, and a hobo (Lee Marvin) who tries to hop Borgnine’s train (it has never been done before). One of the best fight scenes every and it takes place aboard (and on top) of a moving train.

Trains can travel very fast, depending on the track conditions and location. On open stretches, the speed limit can get up to around 100 mph (IIRC). They also sway alot. Standing on top of one isn’t advisable. My father had to help investigate the death of someone who feel between the cars of a moving train travelling between Richmond and Washington. There wasn’t much left of whoever it was - they never did find all of the head.

We used to hop them back when I was in Jr. High and High School. These were fairly slow moving though as they were just pulling out of a yard. We’d grab the ladder on the ones that had a roof and large sliding doors. Up on top there was an elevated grill (grate) for walking. It was about a food wide, raised 3 or 4 inches off the car and was pretty rough for friction’s sake. We tried running and would jump from car to car but it really is pretty disconcerting to do so with the peripheral ground moving at a different speed that the train.

Never did see one of those “bulls”, thank God.

plnr, are you talking about Metro or one of the commuter lines? There are no security officers on Metro trains, except for the ones who are merely traveling from one station to the other.

Just keep an eye out for bridges and over head wires, especially when going towards the back of the train.

Based on a previous occupation I’d say with difficulty and great risk of falling off the curved roof of a train car. I spent a few years on a carrier flight deck which might have a few things in common. Generally wind isn’t all that bad but jet blast can be a real mo-fo. I’ve been knocked down and tumbled down the deck a few times and when I managed to crouch and grab a padeye in the deck I began to wonder if being tumbled on the deck wasn’t better than being seared. I only remember one occasion where the wind was really bad without the planes. I was warned that winds on the flight deck were about 60 knots and that absolutely no uneccessary people would be allowed on the deck… except for me as I had to cover launches. It was very difficult to keep my feet under me in that much wind.

Really?? I’ll be catching my 34, 764, 245th train in about forty-five minutes’ time. Or did you mean literally ON a train? In that case, no I haven’t either.

Anyway, the answer is “yeah kinda”. I reckon it’s entirely possible. The main factor making it difficult would be fear or falling. If you weren’t worried, you’d probably handle it fairly easily -ish.

Trains do bounce around a bit, but as a seasoned commuter, I quite often catch myself standing inside without holding on to anything, while other people are gripping the handrails. Walking inside a train is even easier than standing still. And that tends to be coming into a station on a busy suburban line where there is lots of complicated trackwork and switches (which provide sudden, unexpected movement to the car). On a heavy, well-sprung intercity car, and away from switches, I think walking or running along the roof wouldn’t be that hard (fear factor aside). The motion would be fairly consistent, and so would the headwind. Also, it’s not like tightrope walking. A train is relatively wide. On the downside, there would be relatively more rocking motion on the roof, as it is further from the track than the floor of the train is. Lever principles and all that.
Drugged-out streetkids in South America go “train surfing” all the time. Most of the inevitable deaths are caused by coming into contact with high voltage catenary, or being struck by overhead infrastructure, rather than falls (though they occur too).

  • TLD, railfan and anorak since 1972

I would mention another serious danger with walking on a train’s roof : since you’re standing hence are close to the line (even though you don’t physically touch it), and electric arc could result, and being used as a conductor for high voltage current is unlikely to be pleasant. There are such deaths from time to time, at least on parked trains. I wouldn’t know if it could happen on moving trains. I suspect not, since the line would be connected to the engine.

Yeah, we weed out a few morons every year here in NYC when they engage in “subway surfing”.

If you’re planning a ride on top of a train, keep this in mind so you don’t lose your head. If the train is approaching a bridge, something like an eighth of a mile away, there will be a horizontal steel bar, sometimes free standing from a pole, sometimes attached to something else that is spanning the tracks, that is the width of the train. Hanging freely from this bar are (I don’t recall how many, exactly) steel rods that hang down. The bottom of the steel rods are at the exact height of the bridge you are approaching. These safety devices are for train maintenance employees. ( I guess there is sometimes a need to ride the roof for certain repairs?) So, if you are surfing, and the rods hit you, well,


:confused: Line?

Do you mean the line that’s attached above the train? The mass-transit trains here don’t use them, although the commuter ones (such as Amtrak) sometimes do, as do trolleys.

I would think the most dangerous part about it is that the train’s slipstream buffets a rooftop runner unevenly. At the rooftop level it’s probably not too bad, but around waist level you’d be getting the full force of the air passing over and around the car. That’s just a guess, though. Does anybody know exactly how aerodynamic are those things, anyway? What kind of wind reflection do you get around a train-shaped object?

Yes. That was what I meant (or perhaps I didn’t use the correct word?). Apart from the little secondary tracks, all railways are electrified, over here. Do american long-distance trains use diesel engines?

That I don’t know. Someone help me out, please?

In Washington, D.C., there are two basic types of train. Metrorail runs trains in and around the city, but not beyond its suburbs (this is what I’d call plain ol’ mass transit), and it’s the most populated. Those trains run sometimes above the ground, sometimes below, and therefore don’t have the lines attached.

Commuter rail (and someone please correct me if I’m misidentifying them) runs trains from city to city (or city to farther-out towns). This includes the most popular line, Amtrak, which goes all over the U.S., as well as smaller lines such as VRE (Virginia Railway Express) and MARC (Maryland Rail Commuter). These systems travel above the ground only, and they do have those lines.