Although for years the celebration moved around the calendar a bit more than in the past and was therefore somewhat difficult to track down (no pun intended), today -- we are full of joy to announce -- once again is that most grand fest, National Train Day. At least it is here at Elisberg Industries, and that's good enough as a starting point. You won't find it on any calendars for any number of reasons, but the most important is that since Amtrak funding got cut back they stopped promoting it after 2016.
(And the reason for it moving around the calendar is that it was never a set day, but the Saturday closest to May 10. Why May 10, I hear you cry? Because that's the anniversary of the Golden Spike being driven in at Promontory Point, Utah, to complete the building of the Transcontinental Railroad.)
But whether or not it remains an officially promoted holiday by the government -- and isn't being celebrated here on a proper Saturday due to prior commitments, think of it as the train running behind schedule -- National Train Day (or as it used to be known around these parts once upon a time as "Let's Make Chris Dunn's Head Explode Day," but no more since he now, at long last, acknowledges Bridge on the River Kwai as a train movie) is nonetheless still one of the most joyous holidays of the year.
This is a photo from a family trip years ago. We were in
Switzerland, and for reasons that shouldn't be too surprising
it's one of my favorite train photos. And remains a classic
in Elisberg Family Lore, the beloved Bob Train.
For our part here, we celebrate National Train Day on these pages by posting a list of the greatest train movies. These are films in which trains are absolutely central to the story. Where a train is the driving force of the tale, without which you can’t properly describe the plot.
(Think of it like the classic and beloved Santa Claus song, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." Santa Claus isn't actually in the song at all. He hasn't even shown up yet. In most ways, it's about "you" and what you should do -- or better not do. But even though there's not a hint of Santa Claus even appearing in the song, without Santa Claus...there's no song.)
We're strict about this. A friend once recommended The Taking of Pelham-1-2-3, and it was strongly considered, but that was a subway train or light rail. This list is for full-bore trains, the kind that either have sleeping cars and dining cars, or could if they were hitched on. But I've added it to our Honorable Mention list this year.
Since the list is fluid, we keep adding to it. The most recent additions are The Girl on the Train and The 5:17 to Paris. They both were released several years ago, but sometimes it takes me a while to catch up. It was a toss of the coin with The 5:17 to Paris. I don't think it's a great movie, though an well-done one, based on a true story, but as a train movie the train sequence is long and absolutely gripping -- and notable for using the real-life people from the event as the film's stars, even though they weren't actors, and they acquit themselves well. So, in the end I decided it had enough to include it. I've left off the 2017 remake of Murder on the Orient Express -- at least for now (the list is fluid, after all, as I said) -- since the original is already on it, and was not only much better for my taste but, equally important, more true to the Agatha Christie novel, which bothered me about the remake. However, it's a good film, so I've included it among the Honorable Mentions.
There are two other categories: the just-mentioned Honorable Mention is for movies which you can generally tell their stories without using the word "train," but they have some connection to trains -- usually a great, standout train sequence -- that makes them memorable. And a few years ago I added a new category of Special Mention, for works that don't qualify as a train movie or perhaps even as a movie at all, but deserve a place of honor. For instance, Stephen Ambrose's excellent book on the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, Nothing Like It in the World.
And as I noted in the past, though something I think is likely very obvious, I love train movies. Here is the current list of Great Train Movies.
Around the World in 80 Days
Back to the Future 3
Bridge on the River Kwai
The Darjeeling Limited
Emperor of the North
The 5:17 to Paris
The Girl on the Train
The Great Locomotive Chase
The Great Train Robbery
The Lady Vanishes
Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
The Narrow Margin
North by Northwest
Night Train to Munich
Strangers on a Train
Von Ryan’s Express
Throw Momma from the Train
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
The Greatest Show on Earth
At the Circus
Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
Great Railway Journeys of the World (TV documentary)
Nothing Like It in the World by Stephen Ambrose (book)
The Railrodder (short)
The Taking of Pelham-1-2-3
I've also added another new feature in recent year -- a scene from one of the Great Train Movies, or another entry on the list. This year, we have one of the greatest stunts ever in a movie -- easily one of the top, if not top, stunts in a train movie. This is Sean Connery doing his own stunt in the 1978 film, The Great Train Robbery, based on the novel by Michael Crichton. Just know that it's only part of the scene, and, yes, this is really him.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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