Atomic Train is a 1999 disaster-thriller made-for-television movie about an accidental nuclear explosion in the city of Denver. The film was directed by Dick Lowry.
A train full of hazardous materials, and a smuggled Russian nuclear warhead from Stillwater, Utah loses its brakes on the Continental Divide, derails in Denver Colorado. attempts to avoid a nuclear detonation fail when the chemicals come in contact with water and explode, destroying the city
Why It Sucks
- Multiple plot and factual flaws that shows the creators did no research about anything.
- In the movie, the route is 300 miles down, but the route on the Continental Divide from Stillwater to Denver, about 250 of those 300 miles are uphill.
- The way the movie depicts the runaway train is impossible, because if the air hoses on the train were to disconnect, the brakes would activate as a fail-safe.
- Nuclear weapons wouldn't be shipped armed, and have multiple mechanical and/or electrical safeguards to prevent unauthorized and accidental detonations. They try to handwave this by saying that it's a Soviet-era nuke that was badly designed and prone to accidental detonation, but it's still a pretty lame explanation.
- Even if that were the case, it would likely not fully ignite if accidentally detonated. Nuclear weapons require a very precise series of chain reactions within in order to produce their most devastating blasts, flames detonating it would produce a mere bomb explosion.
- An EMP can take out electronics between 3MHz to 30MHz, but not an entire city. What's more, a nuclear detonation at ground level would have such a short-range EMP that anything likely to be affected would just be incinerated by the blast anyway.
- Colorado's mountainous terrain would likely have prevented Denver from getting the worst of the blast, though the ground surrounding the wreck area would be contaminated by the radiation.
- There's a caboose on the train, even though cabooses were replaced by Flashing Rear End Devices in the 80's.
- In the beginning of the movie, a school bus stalls on the tracks, and it's an entire mess of flaws.
- The engineer of the train states the throttle is jammed again, in which case, per FRA protocol, the locomotive is supposed to be removed from service.
- When the train is about 10-20 seconds from hitting the bus (Which is still stalled) the bus, which has about 50% of the body on the tracks, somehow manages to speed up to about 30MPH in a second.
- The bus doesn't start up until right before the train hits, seemingly waiting for the train. The film is full of such last minute fake-outs!
- The crossing sign is obviously not a US model, as it says "RAILWAY CROSSING", as signs in Canada before the 1980's had inscribed (post-80's signs are unlettered). US crossing signs are required to say "RAILROAD CROSSING".
- The characters all try to be the hero, which is just very lazy.
- The setting is supposed to be in Denver, yet there are multiple shots that clearly show Canadian companies like Canada Trust, and Canadian railroad crossing signage, the latter as described above.
- In the beginning (where the movie's showing the different train wrecks) a scene shows a bridge falling and then exploding. The scene is clearly a ripoff of Under Siege 2: Dark Territory.
- The Admiral is an awful character. His idea to stop the train is to bomb it, which would detonate the nuke.
- The movie overuses generic sound effects, some that are obviously stolen from better films.
- Most of the characters are useless.
- And similar to some movies, the useless characters are killed off for no reason, while some characters who seem poised to be the heroes end up being killed off to prolong the movie.
- When the nuke goes off, several characters manage to survive despite being out in the open, with some being shielded by things like an open car door or climbing through concrete pipes!
- When the bomb detonates, it seems to reduce all of the buildings to rubble in a blast very reminiscent of that seen in Sum of All Fears, but then we see the buildings are damaged, but still standing!
- A lot of continuity errors, like tracks appearing then disappearing while the chase engine tries to hook up to the rear of the runaway.
- There are a lot of unnecessary scenes that are used just for filler, like the aforementioned school bus scene.
- There are a lot of cringy lines, such as "I can defuse it (the nuke) with my eyes closed".
- Multiple clichés like the radio malfunctioning which causes the main plot point to happen (In this case the nuke explodes)
- A major plot hole. Henry Bradshaw, the guy who smuggled the nuke, gets away despite the main characters knowing it was him and SEEING him in person. Wouldn't one of the characters punch him for potentially killing millions of people just to save a few bucks?
- The idea of a runaway train with a nuke on it is decent but executed poorly.
- Rob Lowe's character is likable.
- The scenes on the train are pretty good.
- The visual effects for the actual detonation of the nuke are pretty decent for a TV movie of this era.