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Disaster on the Coastliner (1979)

A vengeful employee of a computer-controlled railway arranges a head-on collision of passenger trains. Can it be stopped?


(as Richard Sarafian)



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Al Mitchell
Estes Hill
Matt Leigh
John Marsh
Roy Snyder
Paula Harvey
Stuart Peters
Jim Waterman / Victor Prescott
Southbound Conductor
Harry Caesar ...
Northbound Conductor
Jacque Lynn Colton ...
Mrs. Shanks
John Carlson
Sandy McPeak ...
Virginia Kiser
Rockne Tarkington


Victor Prescott, who's real name is Jim Waterman, modifies the computer controlling the railroad track (signals, switches, alarms) between San Francisco and Los Angeles in such a way that two trains are heading towards each other on the same track without anyone being able to prevent the disaster. He wants the railroad company to confess that there was criminal negligence involved in an accident some years before during which a derail caused several fatalities - including Waterman's wife and kids. Written by Alto Speckhardt <Alto.Speckhardt@student.uni-ulm.de>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Action | Drama





Release Date:

29 October 1979 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Die Weiche steht auf Tod  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs



Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


During the filming of the closeup shots of William Shatner on the outside of the train, the wind machine had to be turned down several times because it would constantly blow off his toupee. See more »


Los Angeles Union Station is used as the setting for both Los Angeles and San Francisco stations. See more »


Referenced in The Captains (2011) See more »

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User Reviews

Success on the Coastliner
30 January 2010 | by (Australia) – See all my reviews

Taut, tense telemovie concerning a grieving widow and father (Paul Smith) whose family was killed in a railways accident the cause of which he attributes to gross negligence, but which he alleges has been covered up. To make his point, he hijacks a commuter train and sets it on a collision course with a train carrying the mayor's wife. Told from myriad vantage points, various characters come into focus as heroes and villains emerge amid the ensuing chaos.

Key perspectives include the distrusting relationship between special agent Bridges and wily schedule controller Marshall, whilst on board the potential train-wreck, affable con artist Shatner woos the affections of scorned Mimieux, her philandering husband (Fuller) in turn, up to no good on the opposing train. Raymond Burr appears later in the film as the newly appointed railways director, with a sympathetic ear for Smith's allegations, causing feathers to fly in his corrupt coop.

Solid cast, full of familiar faces (Peter MacLean, Harry Caesar, Lane Smith, Rockne Tarkington, Michael Pataki just to name a few) complements the taut action sequences with remarkable depth and quality for a telemovie. Peripheral characters are given multiple opportunities to establish persona's, and the skills of director Sarafian (an experienced feature film director) is evident in adding this dimension.

Elements of distinction include the intelligent dialogue peppered with wry humour, impressive action sequences and stunt-work, and most importantly, an engaging narrative that builds to a satisfying climax. Even the music, and its pulsating high octane rhythm is fitting. But overall it's Sarafian's fluent narrative, and attention to character depth that elevate this movie beyond formula disaster fodder. Riveting stuff and very entertaining.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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Couple of goofs/inconsistencies /plot holes in this movie. gnt-driver
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