Though for years, the celebration moved around the calendar a bit more than in the past and was therefore a bit difficult to track down (no pun intended), today is 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, National Train Day (or as was known around these parts in the past -- but no more! -- as "Let's Make Chris Dunn's Head Explode Day") is nonetheless still one of the most joyous holidays of the year. And "in the past" is a very important phrase to keep in mind. More on that coming up.
The observation car aboard the Southwest Chief on my trip last year from Los Angeles to Chicago.
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.
I should also note that, since the list is fluid, we've added another new movie to the list of Great Train Films, last years movie, The Commuter, with Liam Neeson as a man on his daily trip to work who gets caught up in a conspiracy on board.
There are two other categories: Honorable Mention is for movies which you can 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 last year 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. We include three new entries this year. One is for the aforementioned The Taking of Pelham-1-2-3 -- not about trains but light rail, but deserving of inclusion. The second is Great Railway Journeys of the World, a wonderful TV documentary by the intrepid traveler Michael Palin, And finally, we add The Railrodder, one of the last works that Buster Keaton made. It's a tremendous one-man short about a befuddled fellow on a railroad track cart, traveling across the length of Canada.
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
The Bridge on the River Kwai
The Darjeeling Limited
Emperor of the North
The Great Locomotive Chase
The Great Train Robbery
The Lady Vanishes
Murder on the Orient Express
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
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 last year -- a scene from one of the Great Train Movies, or another entry on the list. And though I've posted it in the past, this year in honor of its Special Mention inclusion, here is Buster Keaton in the 1965 short, The Railrodder.
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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