A handful of unexpectedly dramatic and creative films warning of the danger of railroad tracks for workers and the public alike.
We’ve all seen the classic road safety films of yesteryear – Signal 30, Wheels of Tragedy and the like -but there is also a fascinating collection of educational films made in the 1950s and 1960s that deal with rail safety – more specifically the dangers caused either by railroad staff being sloppy and failing to pay attention to the dangers of the job or by delinquent children (not, you’ll note, a new thing after all) causing accidents by interfering with the tracks, throwing things at trains or messing around on the rails.
As with the road safety films, these movies seemed to often give a lot of leeway for filmmakers to use their imagination in showing the dangers and how to avoid them. None used that freedom more than the 1953 film Escape from Limbo, which takes a supernatural approach, telling the story of rail worker Henry who is killed in a hunting accident and then forced by a shadowy committee of devils – with the words ‘kill’, ‘maim’ and ‘injure’ hanging on the wall behind them – to carry out acts of sabotage against the railway to gather more damned souls. Written by R.F. Maury and directed by C.E. Gallagher, this is an impressively weird little movie that makes its point forcefully but entertainingly.
The Days of Our Years, made in 1955, is less imaginative and more sentimental, with a priest looking into three cases of railroad accidents that have left men maimed and families devastated. Oddly, the film seems to suggest that accidents are somehow inevitable – an odd message for a safety film. The film also includes road accidents involving rail workers, which seems to be pushing the message a bit – but it’s fascinating stuff nonetheless.
Finally, we have The Right Track, a 1967 film aimed squarely at kids, warning them of the dangers of messing around on rail tracks. Lost limbs, lost lives and train derailments are all discussed and if the film is less graphic than some road safety films (it’s probably a lot harder to stage a fake rail crash and there would be less useable footage of train accident aftermaths available) it still gets its point across.
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