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"If a train traveling at 250 miles per hour is stopped dead, the passengers will continue to travel at that speed (that is, double their terminal velocity). In other words, unless you stop the train slowly, they will have more chance of surviving if you had dropped them out of an airplane without a parachute. A safe stopping distance is several miles."
The Superhero Handbook by Michael Powell

A train is out of control!

It's up to a Superhero to stop it!

This trope is usually used because it doesn't need a supervillain (although sometimes one does exist to derail the train). It shows, thus, that the superhero does more than just fight useless battles against supervillains - which makes sense, as the supervillains usually appear after the hero's debut, making people wonder whose fault it is that the villain exists.

In addition, it allows the hero to showcase their strength, and to save the lives of innocent people. It's also a good method of comparing heroes. Superman just holds the train until it stops, while Spider-Man has to use webs attached to lampposts. So, stopping the train is almost like a graduation for a super hero. A bit like The Worf Effect, except Worf is a train. You're a nobody unless you can stop a large moving vehicle.

Used more in The Golden Age of Comic Books, when trains were a popular means of transportation in the US (where most Superhero stories come from), but still alive today. One could put on a tinfoil hat to mention that, if not for the supers, there would be a lot of train crashes, and it seems the train regulation committee forgot OSHA Compliance when they noticed some dude in a cape always appeared to save the passengers.

Oh, also, sometimes there's just a hole in the bridge for the hero to fix. He'll usually put himself between the extremities and "act" as the missing rails.

See also Chained to a Railway, Superhero. Do not confuse with Trainspotting.


Examples:

Anime and Manga

  • In Kinnikuman, the 21st Chojin Olympics had Train Pushing as one of the qualifier events. However, when Terryman sees a puppy has wandered into the path of his train, he immediately gets ahead of the train and stops it. Unfortunately, because the qualifier had rules about touching the train more than once, the act of heroism gets Terryman disqualified from the games.
  • Near the end of the GSC arc of Pokémon Special, Red makes his Big Damn Heroes return by calling out Snorlax to forcibly slow the runaway Magnet Train down to a stop before it crashes into a deadend.
  • In One Piece Franky tries to do this in order to rescue Tom, but he fails. He manages to live, though.
  • In the Unbreakable Machine Doll, the two main characters pull this off in the first chapter.


Comic Books

  • Wonder Woman in More Fun Comics 1.
    • In one episode of the Superfriends, Wonder Woman stops two trains on a collision course with each other, by standing between them and pushing hard in both directions. (How this is materially different from an actual collision, only the scriptwriters can tell you.)
  • Green Lantern's first appearance.
    • Of course, the original Green Lantern's origin involves surviving a train wreck. Does that make this an inversion?
  • Superman loves it, and was probably the Trope Maker:
    • In The Movie, the title character does the "replace the rails with his body" bit to save a train from derailing after an earthquake rips a hole in the tracks.
      • Superman: The Animated Series has a direct shout out in "My Girl" when terrorists misfire their BFG s and destroy and Superman uses himself as the tracks.
    • The Superman cartoon where he saved a train falling into a canyon when the bridge is dynamited was "Billion Dollar Limited. It's on YouTube here: the scene starts around 6:00.
    • In one episode of the original (1973) Superfriends (I think it was "The Power Pirate"), Superman saves a train rolling backwards down a mountain by using his strength to bring it to a stop.
      • In the opening animation for that series, he's shown stopping a runaway train by grabbing the train's back end and pulling until the train stops. This may be a unique case, but it's a lot safer than the other method.
    • Also, when he got his lame electric powers, he had trouble saving a train using his new abilities. Loser much?
    • In one of their many crossovers in the Animated Series, Batman did a lot of the work to make it possible, but it still took Superman letting the bad guy get away to actually stop the train.
    • Trainstopping is, of course, the obvious way for Superman to demonstrate that he's "more powerful than a locomotive."
    • In Grant Morrison's Action Comics #1, Lex Luthor causes a Metropolis bullet train to go out of control. Superman is able to stop it, but being as this is set in his early days, when he was weaker and couldn't even fly yet, stopping the train almost kills him, allowing Lex and the military to capture him. (Added Stealth Pun Mythology Gag: Superman has to be faster and more powerful than a speeding bullet locomotive!)
    • Parodied in a Sergio Aragones drawn Mad Magazine strip, where Superman stops a train without moving an inch. The final panel shows the entire train derailed, with people lying everywhere, and Superman's got a Oh Crap expression on his face.
  • There was an issue of X-Men in the late '90s that paired up Gambit and Bishop, and involved them stopping a runaway train. It let the writer have fun with the combination of powers, where Gambit (an Energy Maker) pumped the engine full of kinetic energy, and Bishop (an Energy Taker) absorbed all of it into himself, before riding the rails to slow the train.
    • A late '80s story had Rogue (with some help from Longshot's fabulous luck) stopping a train before it could plough into a pit made by the Juggernaut, leaving Psylocke and Dazzler to try and stop the Juggernaut on their own.
    • In Ultimate X-Men, Colossus is ordered to do this by Wraith, even though Colossus isn't even sure he'll survive it.
  • Big Bertha of the Great Lakes Avengers is shown doing this with a runaway semi. While the kids are happy to not die, the crossing guard laments being saved by such an unsexy superhero.
  • In Avengers volume 1, issue 1, the Hulk is tricked into destroying a train trestle. As a result he has to hold the tracks up so a train can pass safely.
  • In a 1902 strip of Hugo Hercules, the eponymous character uses his Super Strength to stop a street car so a woman can get on.


Film

  • In Spider-Man 2, Doc Ock rips the brakes out of a train, and leaves Spidey to stop it. He jumps to the front of the train, and gives it three tries: First, he tries brute force via putting his foot down on the tracks. This doesn't work, and hurts like hell. Then he tries firing weblines on either side. The train quickly breaks out. Then he fires a dozen weblines on each side, to spread out the force, which eventually does stop the train, but only after nearly pulling Spidey apart.
  • In Hancock, Hancock saves Ray by stopping a train from hitting his car. Somewhat like the trope picture, Hancock is a Flying Brick and straight up halts the train rather than slowing it gradually. As a result, he causes the train to derail into a messy pileup that will probably cost hundreds of thousands in damages and cleanup - Ray points out that it would have been much easier to just lift the car off the track.
  • In The Incredibles, Mr Incredible stops a train from riding over an exploded railtrack, although several people sue him for the resulting injuries.
    • Somewhat played with by the directors in that Mr. Incredible visibly cringes in preparation of the incoming slam. It won't kill him, but it is still going to hurt.
  • Subverted in Batman Begins. Batman deliberately intends to cause the train (built by his dad, no less) to crash. He doesn't take the enemy in the train with him when he leaves, apparently killing him.
  • Done (in the last method) in Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Movie - "Angel Grove" (Sydney) Monorail, Giant Villain Foot breaks section of track, teens inside lead monorail car can't stop the train, Sixth Ranger mecha flies down and uses wings & back to substitute for the missing track before going off to join the others.
  • A rare villain example occurs in Heroic Trio. The Dragon takes over a station and sends the train out of control. The heroes fight him until the train plows through the station wall, heading right for him. He tries to stop it a la Superman but ends up getting pinned to a wall.
  • Inverted in Unstoppable, where NORMAL PEOPLE have to stop the train. Furthermore, it's (mostly) Truth in Television.
  • The imagination portion of Toy Story 3 plays with this: Woody fails to save the runaway train filled with Trolls before it falls over a destroyed bridge... only for Buzz Lightyear to fly up from the ravine, train, Trolls, Woody and all.


Video Games

  • Subverted in Wario Ware Touched... Wario as Wario Man tries to stop the train, then gets smashed halfway across the horizon and into a sewer.
  • In the strength-test arcade game Sonic Blast Man, one of the scenarios that has to be resolved by punching things as hard as you can is stopping an out-of-control train.
  • Jonathan and Charlotte must team up to do this to a ghost train at one point in Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin.
  • Subverted in Star Fox 64. How do you stop the gigantic Forever Train? You blow it up. Starting at the back.
  • Subverted in Uncharted 2. Perhaps to highlight Nate's accidental action hero status, the train he happens to be on at first starts off unscathed, until you are attacked by a Hind-D attack chopper, at which point the explosions start. The entire back end of the train is cut off, and the only reason you survive is because you go under a tunnel at the last second. The train gets stopped for good later when Nate shoots some propane tanks in a last stand, blowing the train up off the tracks, and it ends up dangling over a thousand foot deep Himalayan valley.
  • In Final Fantasy VI, Sabin suplexes the Ghost Train.
  • You have to shoot a runaway subway train into scrap in at least one Metal Slug title.
  • According to its Pokedex entry, Hariyama from Pokémon actually has this ability.
  • In Sonic Shuffle, the fourth stage's final game has Sonic and his friends stop a train with their bare hands. They're in a dream-like world, so it works.


Web Comics


Western Animation

  • Happened in Transformers Animated.
  • Batman Beyond.
  • Captain Planet used this one, with the Captain saving a runaway monorail car.
  • Batman: The Animated Series uses this in the episode "Christmas With The Joker". Being Bad Ass Normals, Batman and Robin are forced to stop the train through the relatively mundane method of disconnecting the carriages from the engine, then leaping off the train with the engineer in tow.
    • On an earlier occasion, he is forced to stop a runaway tram, using the Batmobile. He manages to stop the tram, but also pretty much totals the car.
  • Justice League Unlimited : Sinestro destroys a bridge so a train full of gold is forced to hit the brakes. It doesn't stop in time, but Sinestro creates a replacement set of tracks to divert it to a nearby mountain cave where he can rob it blind. Hey, he has a Yellow Lantern Ring.
  • Superman: The Animated Series: Surprisingly, Supes himself never full-on stops a train in this manner, but the villainous Metallo intentionaly does to show his power, causing a huge pile-up.
  • In a Shout out to Spider-Man 2, The Spectacular Spider-Man does this. Spectacularly.
    • In that case it was an 18-wheel semi.
  • The Iron Giant has a variation, where the Giant must fix the rails... that he himself broke. Then he spends so long making sure the fix is perfect that the train ends up crashing into his head.
  • In his first theatrical cartoon, Popeye saves Olive Oyl, who is Chained to a Railway, by punching out the train at the last second.
    • In another cartoon, Bluto pretends that he's Superman and can stop a train with his own strength. Of course, the train actually stopped of its own volition - they're standing just outside the train stop and the train had slowed to a stop right before reaching his hand.
      • At the end of that cartoon, Bluto ties Olive to the railroad tracks and Popeye has to stop the oncoming train. He stops it exactly the same way he did in his first cartoon.
  • In Teen Titans Bumblebee is forced to stop a subway train train before it reaches a certain destination, or a bomb will go off She doesn't stop the train, but she did manage to stop the timer on the bomb
    • Same episode, Más Y Menos have to keep a train from going over a broken bridge. They don't stop the train, but they do pull the switch so it goes onto another (not broken) track.
  • Subverted in X-Men: Evolution. Two trains, one carrying fuel, the other passengers, were diverted onto one set of tracks, heading towards each other. Attempting to save the day, Jean tries to slow down one train. Jean, however, simply isn't that good, so Kitty has to phase one through the other. Kitty likewise isn't that good, so Stuff Blowing Up ensues.
  • Super Chicken tries to do this in the opening of his cartoon shorts, the train just plows him over.
  • Optimus Prime gets to do this when a train carrying a nuclear device is heading towards tracks that were just destroyed. He also did it the right way, taking his time to gradually slow it down.
  • In Iron Man: Armored Adventures, Iron Man does both the push and pull versions in the pilot. He first attempts to stop a four-car train from the front. This particular model has a door on the front, though, so it just collapses under his weight. Then he disconnects the other cars so he can pull the first to a stop. This doesn't work completely, but he slows it down enough to lift it into the air once it flies off the unfinished track.
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