5 Trains from Pop Culture You Can Model

5 Trains from Pop Culture You Can Model

Trains are very popular in pop culture fiction, whether movies, television shows, novels, comics, or even video games. For those of us that do model railroading, it’s easy to understand why trains hold such powerful, near-mythical, place in the minds of many. There’s something fun, magical, dangerous, or mysterious about trains, and thus they show up in everything from mystery novels to science fiction movies to based-on-true-stories TV shows. Sometimes, the train is the setting of the story (Murder on the Orient Express, Silver Streak, Unstoppable), sometimes the setting for a scene or a few scenes (“The Train Job” episode from Firefly, Broken Arrow, Captain America: The First Avenger), and sometimes it is just good background scenery (numerous films and TV shows). The really neat thing is, you can model a lot of these fictional trains and railroads! All it takes is a bit of research, and I’m going to do that for you for 5 trains from pop culture you can model.

(Note: trains are presented in order of my favorites, starting with #1. Your favorites may very well be different!)Silver-Streak-Poster

  1. The Silver Streak from Silver Streak – The Silver Streak is a fictional Los Angeles-Chicago passenger train in the film Silver Streak, starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. I saw this film at the drive-in when I was about 9 years old (and all of the adult innuendo went right over my head!). It remains my favorite train movie today and I watch it at least once a year.

In the film, the Silver Streak is operated by the fictional AMRoad, loosely based on Amtrak. The power for the train was two Canadian Pacific EMD FP7As, #4070 leading and #4067 trailing. The two engines are still in CP paint, with AMRoad patches to cover up the real railroads identity. The pair pulled an 8-car train, consisting of a baggage car, a dining car, a dome/observation car, two sleeping car, and three coaches, all of them Canadian Pacific streamlined passenger cars relettered as AMRoad.

The Silver StreakThis train would be easy to model. Atlas, Athearn, and InterMountain all currently offer HO scale FP7s, InterMountain offers N scale FP7s, and while no one currently makes an O scale FP7 (at least, not that I can find), MTH does produce an O scale F7 that would make a great stand in. Many different companies make passenger cars of the type and style that would match the Silver Streak. You would need to either do some painting and lettering yourself, or have it done for you.

And, to show you what it might look like, here’s a video of an HO scale model of the Silver Streak by Erik Kalinski. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8muJfGCSW00[/youtube]

  1. Triple Seven, 767, and 1206 from Unstoppable – Despite its flaws, I love this film. Loosely based on an actual incident with CSX SD40-2 #8888, the film does a passable but not entirely accurate job portraying railroad work. A lot of license is taken for dramatic purposes, and that’s fine with me as I watch films for their story and not as a lesson in diesel engine operations. I’ve probably seen this film a dozen times by now, which is more than once a year since it was released.Unstoppable_PosterThe premise is an inept hostler named Dewey hops off a slow moving train to throw a switch. While off the train – and no other crew is present – the engine “accidentally” slips into full power and Dewey fails to climb back aboard. The train, led by AC4400CW #777 and trailing unit AC4400CW #767, belongs to the fictional Allegheny and West Virginia Railroad and they immediately go into overdrive trying to figure out how to stop this runaway train, which is carrying several tank cars of highly volatile liquids. In the end, the heroes of the story, played by Denzel Washington and Chris Pine, come to the rescue in SD40-2 #1206 and slow the train enough that another employee is able to jump aboard and stop the train.

AWVR trains are very easy to model and, indeed, several folks already have done so. You can even find custom decal sets on eBay for creating the #777, #767, and #1206 in HO scale. Many companies manufacture SD40-2s in O, HO, and N scales and they are very easy to find. Kato, Athearn, and Broadway Limited all produce HO scale AC4400CWs, Kato produces it in N scale, and MTH makes it in O scale.

AWVR 777 & 767 AWVR 1206

For a little inspiration, take a look at Daniel Arnold’s video of his custom painted HO scale AWVR engines.

  1. IllinoisThe_Fugitive_movie Southern #1901 and #536 from The FugitiveThe Fugitive is a fantastic remake of the original TV show. The movie stars Harrison Ford as the fugitive in question and Tommy Lee Jones as the US Marshall agent in charge of the manhunt. The scene involving the train is short, but is very important. In the scene, the bus transporting Ford’s character and other prisoners crashes in southern Illinois and causes a derailment of a fictional Illinois Southern train.For the scene, which was actually shot in western North Carolina on the Great Smokey Mountain tourist railroad, the production company purchased an ex-CSX GE U18B #1901 and ex-Norfolk Southern EMD GP30 #536, completely stripped them down to just a shell, and then intentionally derailed them for the dramatic scene. Today, both #536 and #1901 remain where they were left after filming, beside the rails in wrecked condition, and are a tourist attraction.
    IS1901 IS536

I was surprised to find that almost no one has modeled the Illinois Southern. It’s a great fictional regional, shortline, or even Class I railroad. I did manage to come across one photo of a kitbashed Atlas GP30 painted as IS #536, but can’t find the name of the person that made the model, or any other photos of it. It would be fairly easy to model either of these units.

IS536HOScaleWhile several manufacturers produce the EMD GP30, right now Walthers Proto is the only one that produces the matching high nose version of #536 in HO scale. If you’re an experienced modeler, you could kitbash one from another company’s low nose version. Another option would be to purchase a custom shell from Big Dawg Originals. The shell is made to fit either a Bachmann or Walthers Proto GP30 frame. If you model in N or O scale, you can find numerous GP30s, but all are low nose so some kitbashing would be a requirement.

Intermountain offers an HO scale U18B. Gilmaur (a British specialty model train company) produces an O scale U18B etched brass kit, but no one produces an N scale U18B. That said, a couple folks have kitbashed an N scale U18B.

  1. The Grand Continental from Under Siege 2: Dark Territory – Let’s face it, this is a bad movie. I mean, really bUnderSiege2ad. That said, it’s a fun action flick if you just ignore the plot holes and really awful railroading terminology and practices. The star, Steven Seagal, must save a bunch of hostages while protecting his niece, all on board the Grand Continental. It’s not 100% clear on whether the Grand Continental is the name of a fictional special passenger train, similar to the Rocky Mountaineer or such similar, or the name of an actual fictional railroad. Either way, you can model this one pretty easily.The film used a pair of former Alaska Railroad (via Santa Clarita Railway) EMD GP7s, #1804 and #1810. The engines were painted in the Grand Continental paint scheme and the passenger cars – ex-Southern Pacific bi-level commuter cars – were painted and customized by Colorado Railcar of Denver.

GT-1810 seige

Both Kato and Walthers Proto produce a bi-level commuter car that will work. You would need to do a lot of custom work to get them to look like the ones from the film, but it’s not impossible at all. If you model in O scale, MTH once offered a bi-level commuter car in Chicago and North Western paint which could be easily modified. Unfortunately, this car is out of production now but you can sometimes find them at swap meets, shows, and on eBay. If you model in N scale you are in luck! Wheels of Time manufactures models of the specific cars used for the film, though you will still need to do some customizing and painting to get them up to the movie appearance.

The two engines are much easier. Many manufacturers offer the GP7 in HO, N, and O scales, but all are the as-delivered high nose version. They would require a bit of kitbashing to lower the nose before painting them. Walthers Trainline does offer a low nose GP9 in HO scale. Though not technically accurate, it would make a good stand in. Take note that the #1810 does not have dynamic brakes, so you would need to remove the brake blister from the GP9 model before painting.

For a bit of fun and inspiration, here’s a video – again by Erik Kalinski – recreating the movie (sort of) in HO scale:

  1. The GO Loco engine from Grand Theft Auto V – Now this is a guilty pleasure of mine. In addition to model railroading, I love gaming – both tabletop games and video games – and I never thought I would actually enjoy a Grand Theft Auto game, but a friend got me to play this one and I love it. It actually does have a really good story to it. In the game, there is one mission where you hijack a train and cause a derailment. You can’t otherwise get into or drive a train in this game unless you use one of the unofficial mods for the game (and then on PC only). The trains do travel around on a fairly regular schedule, and you have to watch out for them. I was wasted more than once by trains in the game!

The train eGrand_Theft_Auto_Vngine, like the automobiles, motorcycles, and airplanes in the game, is based on real world engines but is otherwise clearly fictional. According to the designers of the game, the engine was loosely based on the EMD GP40. I think, though, it more closely resembles a Santa Fe CF7 rebuild.

Athearn produces a CF7 model in HO scale. The CF7 isn’t available in N scale, but Randgust does produce a CF7 conversion kit that can be used with an N scale GP7 or GP15 to make a CF7. O scale has neither a mass produced CF7 or a conversion kit, so one would need to be kitbashed from a GP7 – or if you are lucky enough and have the cash to spend, you might be able to track down one of the rare Pecos River brass CF7s in O scale. Pecos River Brass is now out of business and finding their models is not easy today, but they do sometimes show up at swap meets and on eBay. Either way, in any scale, some work would need to be done to turn the unit into the unspecified model from the game. It could be done, though, and I am just waiting to see someone’s custom build of this unit show up somewhere.


So there you go! 5 trains from pop culture that you can model. There are plenty more than this, but these are my five favorite fictional trains. Have you modeled any trains or railroads from TV, movies, or novels?

Notes: Silver Streak is a copyright of 20th Century Fox. Poster and imagery from the film are used for documentation purposes only, falling under the fair use clause.
Unstoppable is a copyright of 20th Century Fox. Poster and imagery from the film are used for documentation purposes only, falling under the fair use clause.
The Fugitive is a copyright of Warner Bros. Poster and imagery from the film are used for documentation purposes only, falling under the fair use clause.
Under Siege 2: Dark Territory is a copyright of Warner Bros. Poster and imagery from the film are used for documentation purposes only, falling under the fair use clause.
Grand Theft Auto V is a copyright of Rockstar Games. Poster and imagery from the game are used for documentation purposes only, falling under the fair use clause.
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Robert Thomson

Robert W. Thomson is a life-long railfan, the son of a former L&N Railroad B&B gang foreman, and an amateur photographer. He was born and raised in southeast Tennessee but now lives in Butte, Montana with his wife, Connie and cat, Charlie. Robert has worked as a park ranger, underground mine tour guide, freelance roleplaying game writer, and ran his own roleplaying game publishing company until selling it in 2012.

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