Runaway Train movie cover Movie Locations Guide

Where was Runaway Train filmed?

1985

About Runaway Train

Runaway Train is an American action thriller by notable director Andrei Konchalovsky. The idea behind a movie about a runaway train was the brainchild of director Akira Kurosawa who planned to make it in 1966. Nevertheless, production was shelved after he shifted to make Tora! Tora! Tora!

It was only in 1982 that the Nippon Herald Company (owners of the script) contacted Francis Ford Coppola about recommending a director for The Runaway Train. Coppola suggested Konchalovsky's name and helped get the project back on track (pun intended!)

The film focuses on two escaped convicts of Alaska's Stonehaven Maximum Security Prison, Oscar 'Manny' Mannheim (Jon Voight) and Buck McGeehy (Eric Roberts). Along with the unwilling locomotive assistant driver, Sara (Rebecca De Mornay), they are stuck on a runaway train. Manny is a ruthless bank robber who wins a civil case against the prison officials for welding him shut in an isolated cage for three years. The Assistant Prison Warden Ranken (John P. Ryan), a sadistic man, treats his prisoners like animals and is the arch nemesis of Manny.

Manny, along with fellow inmate Buck, breaks out of prison (his third attempt) after Manny is stabbed. After they crawl through the sewer tunnel in the freezing cold, they hop aboard a train with only four locomotives. The railroad engineer suffers heart failure and manages to pull the brakes, but the speed of the locomotor overpowers the brake shoes, completely burning them off with the escaped convicts on board.

Once the train picks up speed, Central Control is alerted, and they try their best to avert a crash with the runaway train, but the operator of the other train moves his locomotives too slowly, causing a collision. This accident further jams the front door of the second engine and damages the cab of the lead/ first locomotive engine. After the crash, the escaped convicts realize something has happened to the train, and they're going too fast.

Eventually, Rankin manages to get on board the train but realizes his end is near when he confronts Manny and Buck.

City Locations

California, Montana, Alaska

Location Types

American, NatureScapes, Police/ Jails, Studios

Location Styles

Americana, Dated, Federal Building, Helicopter

Runaway Train Locations

The Runaway Train locations were grouped together in California, Montana, and Alaska, with most of the train sequences filmed in Alaska on the Butte, Anaconda, and Pacific Railroads. The prison scenes were shot at the Old Montana Prison, which now houses a museum and visitor center (for those interested in the history).

The prison scenes did not include any real inmates, and nearly 200 extras were used to portray the chaos in the penitentiary. This filming and coordination with all the main cast and the extras took more than a week. However, the prison escape scenes were filmed at the Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles, California.

During the filming, the production team realized they were missing snow (due to an unnatural spring) and decided to include fake snow used on the Christmas tree flock. After they filmed the initial part of the prison sequences, the cast and crew shifted to Whittier, Alaska, to film the train parts. The train crash was filmed using mini trains at an unused ranch in California.

Warning: It should be noted that there are spoilers ahead.

Teaser: Andrei Konchalovsky said that the train sequences were notoriously difficult to shoot and took several days to perfect. This issue was also partly because regular trains were not disrupted for the filming, which meant that all the trains (used during filming) had to be halted and rerouted to a siding.

Fun fact:

The end sequence closes with a quote from William Shakespeare, "No beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity. But I know none, and therefore am no beast."

Buck and Manny get aboard the train scene in Runaway Train

Butte, Anaconda & Pacific Railway, Anaconda, Montana

Buck and Manny are on the run when they reach the railroad yard. They're on a train, but Manny is unhappy since they don't know where it's going. Looking around, they can't find a way to escape the police. Suddenly, Manny sees a train rolling out of the railroad yard and decides that he's getting onto this locomotor and finding his freedom. Manny tells Buck, "Hey! Look here! There's my limousine!" Buck asks Manny, "Why? Why that one?" Manny smiles and says, "Cos, I want it!" Buck and Manny start running towards the train while simultaneously trying to find cover. Thanks to the constant snowy conditions, they get to board the train discretely without anyone seeing them.

They hide in one of the compartments till the train starts running. As they slowly pull out of the yard, Buck smiles at Manny and says, "We're moving, man! We're moving. Thank you, Jesus!"

This is one of the best scenes in Runaway Train, with Manny seeing the namesake runaway train for the first time. This filming location is the Butte, Anaconda & Pacific Railway at Anaconda in Montana. To see the railroad yard, take the I-90 E to exit 201. Then follow MT-48 S and MT-1 N to Cherry St to reach the railway.

Manny wins the civil lawsuit case scene in Runaway Train

Old Montana Prison, 1106 Main St, Deer Lodge, Montana

At the start of The Runaway Train, there is an announcement by a news reporter that Oscar' Manny' Manheim (Jon Voight), a life-term prisoner who was welded in his cell for three years, won his civil rights suit against the prison officials at Stonehaven Maximum Security Prison. The reporter announces that Associate Warden Ranken (John P. Ryan) will be on in a few minutes. Till then, inmate Buck McGeehy (Eric Roberts) goes to Rogers (William Tregoe Jr.) and asks him to play the Warden's response throughout the prison since Manny won his case and the court has ordered his release.

However, Warden Ranken makes derogatory remarks by calling Manny an animal, not a man, without realizing the entire prison can hear. This speech sparks an uprising in jail with inmates yelling, "Hear that trash, Ranken! Somebody shoot that pan*y vegetable. Manny for President!"

The Runaway Train filming location for the Stonehaven Maximum Security Prison in Alaska was the Old Montana Prison at 1106 Main St, Montana. The Old Montana Prison is now a museum with a gift shop and visitor center. Getting here is quick if you catch the I-90 W via Exit 187 for Deer Lodge.

Crash scene in Runaway Train

Rancho Cucamonga, California

The Operator of the Eastbound 12 calls into Central Control and is answered by Frank Barstow (Kyle T. Heffner). The Operator asks Frank, "Why did you stop us?" Frank replies, "There's a runaway coming at you." The Operator doesn't respond and instead, after constant urging from Frank, says, "I don't see any runaway." Frank snarls, "If you were close enough to see her, you'd be dead! Get it? She's about 4 miles away. Now, I want you to pull onto track 2 at once."

Finally, the Operator understands the urgency of the runaway train and starts slowly moving his train to track 2. Unfortunately, he does this at a snail's pace, and the runaway train collides into the last car of Eastbound 12. The brakeman of the Eastbound 12 narrowly misses being killed by jumping off as soon as he sees the runaway barrelling towards them.

The filming location of Runaway Train for the crash scene was Rancho Cucamonga, where production and crew members shot the scene using disguised scales of miniature trains. The crash shooting with the two trains and the resulting mini-explosion, the smoke, debris, and aftermath was in a disused winery at Rancho Cucamonga. Fans of the film should hop onto bus number 66.

Manny says his goodbye scene in Runaway Train

Portage, Alaska

After Ranken (tied up in chains) tries to goad Manny into pressing the emergency stop button. Manny refuses, and it seems like he has concluded that their deaths are inevitable. When Ranken comes to the same conclusion, he finally asks Manny about Buck and Sara (Rebecca De Mornay), "What about that punk and the girl?" Manny comes close to Ranken, smiles, and replies, "Oh no. It's just you and me," and walks away.

Manny steps out onto the train, injured with his hands bleeding and breaks the hinge holding the train bogies with Buck and Sara. He then grabs the lever and sets the remaining 3 carriages free. Buck runs to see Manny, realizes what he's done, and screams, "Manny! Godda**it! Shut it down, Manny! Shut it down!" But Manny simply waves goodbye one final time. Sara yells at Buck, "He knows what he wants to do."

Many of the Runaway Train locations are filmed in Alaska, and this one is no different. It's in Portage, accessible via the AK-1 N onto Alyeska Hwy. Getting here is possible only by car or train. This scene was slightly complicated to shoot because the filming location had to look like the other train scenes already present.

Manny refuses to press the button scene in Runaway Train

Seward Track, Alaska Railroad, Butte

This is one of the best Runaway Train action scenes, with Manny disengaging the remaining three trolleys from the main carriage. The only other person with him is Associate Warden Ranken, who got on the Runaway Train by jumping aboard from a helicopter.

Ranken screams at Manny, saying, "You're going to push that button and stop this train! We've only got a few minutes." However, Manny responds quietly, "We've got all the time in the world." Ranken smiles sarcastically while saying, "You'll die, bast*rd." But Manny says, "You'll die with me. F*ck you." Rankin starts laughing and says, "You're as afraid to die as anybody else, and I never let you free. You hear me?" Manny smiles and replies, "I'm free."

The Runaway Train production team chose the Seward Track of the Alaska Railroad for this incredibly stunning yet emotional scene. The team faced several challenges since they needed it to be perfect. The only company they had was eagles, jackrabbits, and moose. Getting here is slightly tricky as it's accessible only by train or helicopter. However, you can catch a transit train from Seward. Getting to Seward is quick via AK-1 N toward Towle Cir and State Hwy 9.

The 'little bitty spot' scene in Runaway Train

Whittier Branch, Alaska

Manny and Buck are on the runaway train. Buck tells Manny about his dreams of visiting Las Vegas and Mardi Gras, partying, and meeting girls. Manny listens to every word and then asks, "Dreaming?" When Buck tells Manny that he's been dreaming about all these things nearly every day of his life, Manny bursts out, "That's Bullsh*t! You're gonna get a job! Some job a convict can get, like scraping off trays at the cafeteria or cleaning out toilets, and you're gonna hold onto that job like gold! Because it is gold!" Manny continues lecturing Buck, "The man is gonna look around the room to see how you done and say you missed a little bitty spot! You're gonna suck all the pain inside you, and you're gonna clean that little bitty spot until you get that shining clean."

This Runaway Train film scene was shot on the Whittier Branch Railroad in Alaska. The exact location is hard to pinpoint since it was filmed on a slow-moving train. However, it is possible to visit the railroad and enquire about possible viewing times and closest filming locations. To get here, use AK-1 and head northwards till you turn right onto Portage Glacier Rd. Once there, head straight onto W Camp Rd to reach the Whittier Alaska Railroad.

Conclusion

The Runaway Train was a trendsetter with many movies centered around train issues and concerns. One notable film that most audiences likened to The Runaway Train was Unstoppable, starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine in leading roles.

For the Runaway Train, the team did a fabulous job with the geographical locations that wove the film's urgency and made it a cohesive whole. The flow and structure of the movie were easy to follow, with many fans instantly relating to it.

Actors Jon Voight and Eric Roberts were outstanding in portraying escaped convicts. It was obvious that plenty of background work had gone into perfecting their accents, ensuring the emotions were spot on and making global audiences believe they were the roles being portrayed.

Overall, the movie wasn't as big a success as the producers would've liked, but it picked up pace and recognition over the years.