Switchback 1997

Paramount Studios

I first heard about this movie from a blog! Many thanks to James Tiroch and his Cinetrains site for providing a wealth of information about the two locomotives used in filming AND their disposition afterwards.

Despite the snazzy “Grande Gold” graphic (see below image) splashed across their flanks, these are NOT Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad (D&RGW) locomotives! At the time of filming, Union Pacific owned D&RGW and would not allow use of their equipment. Movie makers simply leased a couple locomotives and painted them up the way they liked.

And WHAT a couple of engines they are! Two former Southern Pacific EMD-built (1970) SD39’s #5319 & #5325 dressed up in Rio Grande “speed lettering”. Let’s check out this film on the “Main Line Thru The Rockies”.

A pair of Rio Grande diesels is about to enter a tunnel deep in a Colorado canyon. These Espee SD39’s in disguise were frequently renumbered to represent different trains. Notice the cabside number location has been painted out. Here the lead unit is “2010” and the trailing unit is “234”.

Hokey smokes! With the credits still rolling, our first train is led by Burlington Northern #2804 pulling a string of BN 50′ box cars. BN #2804 is an EMD GP39-2 rebuilt by Morrison-Knudsen from the hulk of an SP GP30 locomotive (originally built in 1963).

Major chunk of movie and gratuitous violence left off HERE.

About 31 minutes into our picture, an unnumbered SD39 looms up in the windshield making Lane Dixon (played by Jared Leto) think it’s going to run him over. Bailing out of the Caddy, he encounters a laughing Bob Goodall (played by Danny Glover) throwing snowballs at the Southern Pacific gondola.

As Lane catches his breath, a gold Rio Grande box car passes behind him. This seems as good a place as any to show Union Pacific’s heritage tribute to D&RGW, UP #1989 (year of their merger), an EMD SD70ACe “ACE” locomotive built in May 2006 and good for 4,300 horsepower.

More violence lopped off.

A short scene with Bob staring at a D&RGW calendar. The text under the February 1996 snowplow picture reads, “The Freight Never Stops on The Rio Grande Line”.

Judging from the layout and font choice, this looks like the art department took a Union Pacific calendar, changed a few graphics, and made their own Rio Grande calendar.

Still more plot expurgated.

FBI agent Frank LaCrosse (played by Dennis Quaid) is on the trail of serial killer Bob in the little fictional railroad town of Martinsberg. Suddenly, he realizes Psycho Bob may be on that freight train, so he takes off in pursuit.

It’s a sucky picture, but we can make out a caboose at the end. What’s with the LIGHTED box cars?

Glistening in the moonlight, we can see the lead SD39 is numbered 218.

Wrecking his pursuit vehicle, Frankfurter manages to climb a steep, snowy embankment and board the caboose. Sure.

Comes the dawn, #218 rounds a curve past the camera. Frank’s got the conductor in his sights from the overhead cupola. Don’t shoot, G-Man! Studying the employee timetable, Frank discovers he can walk from this line to that line. Uh-huh.

After referencing my August 1955 Official Guide, the D&RGW had stations at Trinidad, La Veta and Fir in south east Colorado, but the track layout pictured was whomped up by Hollywood.

In an unbelievable gesture, the conductor switches clothes with Frank as we get one, last look at the caboose before FIB boy climbs the canyon wall. That first picture looks to have been “shopped” as there is a 2nd rail line (with a dandy bridge) which disappears as the camera angle changes. Mebbe they just filmed in a different location.

Meanwhile up at La Veta — nice brick depot with bay window — Bob’s sidekick Lane is trudging up to the D&RGW MOW spreader being used as a caboose. Rio Grande owned 8 spreaders (standard gauge 042 through 049) and below is a video I discovered of number 042 on display in Helper, Utah:

Stoic Frank has managed to scale and now descend a steep canyon wall, just as the SD39’s round the corner. Will he make it?

As the engines roar beneath him, Frank hangs on to a conveniently-placed cable. At some point he drops to the train, passes through a tunnel, and there he is hanging on to the side of a Southern Pacific tank car for dear life.

Piece of cake. Frank takes a break on the rear platform of the spreader. Gaahhh! Psycho Bob swings down from the roof!

Bob and Frank make great faces as they collide. Just like that, the two of them are battling it out on the extended wing of the spreader.

FACE HOLD! Any action movie worth its salt, has at least one face hold. Dennis and Danny are happy to oblige and ham it up with gusto.

This is the best side view of the D&RGW spreader I could capture. I never was able to get a number off the flank of this MOW unit. Once more, good triumphs over evil and Bob plummets to a gruesome demise. Bastard.

Slight problem. Frank is way out on the wing and a tunnel is coming up.

Frank. You’re doing it wrong. Naturally, filmmakers gave ol’ Frank about 5 minutes of screen time to travel the short distance to the tunnel and get his sorry ass to safety. Pow!

I recognize this location. Descending the Front Range into Denver, our train is passing through the “Big Ten” curve, so named because the radius is 10%.

Engineer (in D&RGW cap) is running the train whilst the conductor (in SP cap) reads the sports page — rules violation, even back then.

The law gets the train stopped to look it over…via helicopter. Hey, that’s R. Lee Ermey as the Sheriff! Lock n’ Load!!

One more train scene. The camera swoops over an Amtrak coach yard and two BART trains in Oakland, CA.

In the coach yard, I spy a Superliner, an Amcafe, a Horizon food service car, and what appears to be a privately-owned passenger car (can’t make out the lettering, though).

Aaaaand…just for the hell of it, I present a couple pictures of #5319 and #5325 as they looked while in service on Southern Pacific.

Here’s what IMDb has to say about Switchback:

If you have ANY information about this movie you’d like to share, please contact me at: Lindsay.Korst@gmail.com, or leave a comment.  Thanks and enjoy the blog!



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