A young passenger railroad engineer battles a phobia as he and his fellow rookies encounter triumph and turmoil, from basic training, comedic situations and romance to death on the tracks, blackmail and wrongful imprisonment.
As a child, Matt suffers permanent injury while hopping a freight train. Adult Matt struggles with a resulting phobia, magnifying the more common fear that he'll never find what others enjoy--a career and love. After he loses another girlfriend and job, his tossed dart hits an ad for a commuter railroad engineer at fictional PHASTA in Philadelphia. Terrified but buoyed by faith, Matt accepts the challenge as a chance to beat the dreads that are ruining his life.
Rookies support each other through training, where there's no gender or race, only competence or failure. They're tutored by colorful veteran engineers who range from intense to laissez faire and reckless. "Steady" reinforces safety by evoking a long-ago collision that incinerated dozens. "Nutsy" gleefully stampedes teens off tracks by using "stealth mode"--extinguishing his racing train's headlights in the dark. In the middle lies affable old Irishman Will; while a fisherman gazes enviously at Will's train, Will daydreams that he's the one fishing.
Celebrating graduation, Matt meets Kate. Dating begins disastrously when Matt splashes paint on her in his ramshackle home. He's mortified to have her use his basement "shower"--a hose. She apprehensively roughs it, and oldfangled Matt salvages the date with a romantic dance to Astaire's "The Way You Look Tonight". Meanwhile, staid Steady and wife tryst at a closed Lovers' Lane, then suffer ignominious scolding by their teenage son at a police station. Will dances with his wife to their song as he voices his life regrets. Days later, horrified Will sees toddlers on his track; his train passes harmlessly over them, but he dies of heart failure.
Matt's clumsiness in wooing Kate is tempered by fortune. His boat strands them overnight on a river island--with an unbeatable view of fireworks. Even a Jersey Shore trip featuring drunken karaoke and an outrageous brawl with boardwalk Haunted House "monsters" ends sweetly.
The engineers undergo hair-raising ordeals. An impatient motorist drives onto tracks, seemingly dooming her baby. An engineer snarls rail traffic, defying her orders to run over an injured dog, and the region erupts in controversy to the point of death threats. Slippery rail season gives Matt a scare when he slides inexorably toward a stop signal as another train approaches. One foggy night, he hits something, and his arrogant conductor must walk through spooky woods to ensure it wasn't a person. Frightened by crimson snow, she hurries back, then peers under the train, encountering the blood's source--a deer. Another rookie, battling his own racism, tastes injustice; he's imprisoned for accidentally killing retired exotic dancer LuLu LaLeche after a witness inexplicably alters her account, while the grieving multimillionaire widower forces closure of a busy rail line.
An electrocuted teen's pals vow revenge. When one stumbles while angrily hurling rocks, Matt's wheels sever his legs. Violently ill, Matt can only stammer false assurance to the dying boy. Matt thought he'd conquered his phobia and had all the answers when his buddy was distraught after accidentally killing a young couple, but having lost Kate and now possibly his faith, Matt holes up at home, swilling beer. He eventually returns through the loyalty of friends. He still lacks love, but that changes when a hooded woman shadowing him boards his train. The woman is Kate. They dance to Sinatra's "Christmas Waltz" on a snowy station platform overlooking the nighttime city skyline.
A 20s Kate Winslett or Julianne Moore
A 20s Black male, a young Will Smith