Disaster on the Coastliner 1979


I have included this movie among my favorites purely due to its camp value. You can NOT go wrong with so many BIG HAMS – Doctor Brackett, Perry Mason and Captain James T. Kirk to name a few – in the same cast.  DOTC is a late 70’s disaster movie set on the fictitious Trans Allied Railroad Corporation (otherwise known as Amtrak). The hook is two passenger trains, one carrying the Vice-President’s wife or some such, hurtling towards one another on the same track.  Let’s take a look at the cast:

The Stars of DOTC:

Lloyd Bridges as the Secret Service Agent who wears shades indoors
Raymond Burr as Perry Mason / The Railroad President
Robert Fuller (Doctor Brackett from Emergency!) as the philandering cad
E.G. Marshall as the incompetent chief dispatcher
William Shatner as Captain Kirk — to the rescue, of course!
Yvette Mimieux as Dr. Brackett’s ex- who takes up with The Shat.
Paul L. Smith as the eeee-vil computer technician/locomotive engineer

SPOILER ALERT !!! Plot details follow:

I remember seeing this ABC movie-of-the-week when it first came out and noticed how the
consists changed equipment and length from moment to moment. Mostly, it was F40PH locomotives pulling Amcans with an old baggage car appearing/disappearing in the  consist. Lots of fast runbys from crazy angles.  It was fun. Occasionally, like in the above
title frame, an old EMD E-unit would be pulling a train.

The exteriors of the trains were filmed in Southern California and also along the old
New Haven Railroad in Connecticut (now part of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor).

See what IMDb has to say about “Disaster on the Coastliner”.

The script conveniently overlooks emergency brakes found in every car and has you believe there are no crossovers or switches of any kind for the 90 minutes the two trains are on the same track.

But nitpicking train operations is not the only joy here. If you peruse the horrible script, you find such gems as:

Robert Fuller, trying to shed his “good guy” Doctor Brackett image, is shown smoking, drinking, and carrying on with some bimbo, while on the phone to his wife. Later we see him clumsily trying to pick up chicks in the train’s club car.

Lloyd Bridges waltzing into the railroad’s dispatch center and trying to run the show. He starts by annoying everyone (“I count 9 people here, not 10”), then losing his cool when things go wrong.  It must have been this movie that landed him the role of Steve
McCroskey in Airplane! and Airplane II.

E.G. Marshall who despite being chief dispatcher, has no clue how his railroad works.  He just keeps saying, “Everything is run by computer”.

A sweaty Paul L. Smith sabotages all the dispatch center computer cards right in front of
everybody.  Then he marches down to the station, overpowers the real engineer in the employee break room and takes over. No one notices anything. Every time he’s on camera, sinister organ music trills menacingly in the background.

Pat Hingle (the engineer on the other train) obeys a strange voice on the radio, ignores his
own conductor, ignores his own dispatcher and then proceeds to blow through red signals for an hour.  Sure.

Track workers cutting in a crossover (with about a 30 degree angle) that will supposedly keep the train on the rails at 100mph.  Just to make sure, they all lean on the outside rail with long crowbars.  Their foreman challenges the roadmaster, “$100 says she’ll hold!”

William Shatner (All Hail The Shat!), pottering around on the roof of a speeding locomotive with Paul L. Smith (see photo below).  That toupee is really getting a workout!

Conclusion: This movie is a classic, polyester image of the 1970’s. Check it out!


William Shatner and Paul L. Smith ride on the cab of a runaway Amtrak F40PH locomotive 

If you have ANY information about this movie, please contact me at:

About Lindsay Korst

Webmaster, Blogmaster, Ferroequinologist - Lindsay Korst works for a nationwide home improvement center after a 20+ year career supporting computer users. A resident of the Seattle area since 1976, he has had a life-long interest in railroads, particularly those in the Pacific Northwest. He is an enthusiastic participant in the Great Northern Railway Historical Society. He and his wife reside in Redmond, Washington.
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2 Responses to Disaster on the Coastliner 1979

  1. Jason R says:

    Oh my goodness, glad to find someone else remembers this movie! I caught up with it in the mid-1980s when it re-aired frequently on TBS. What prompted my web search today was the discovery of a VHS tape of “DOTC” as I was cleaning out my parent’s garage, poorly labeled by long-ago me. This and “Silver Streak” were two rail standards of TBS in the 80s which I still enjoy today 🙂 Thanks for the hard work you have put into this website!


  2. Pingback: Continental Divide 1981 | Obscure Train Movies

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