Some passengers screamed in horror, others sat still in silent shock. Several miles — horizontally and vertically — from anywhere they could be reached, their rush-hour subway way train was being hijacked.
You are watching: The taking of pelham 123 true story
In director Tony Scott's action-thriller make-over of 'The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3,' Denzel Washington and John Travolta star as a mild-mannered Metro Transit dispatcher and a meant-to-be-menacing train hijacker, respectively, fighting it out both mentally and physically over a bundle of cash and the lives of 19 New York City subway commuters.
Like its somewhat dated, still excellent 1974 inspiration, Scott's 'Pelham' makes for great entertainment. But how real is the threat of a subway-train hijacking — especially considering this decade's heightened emphasis on Homeland Security?
A subway train has never been held hostage in the U.S., and the possibility of it actually occurring is slim at best, says Ron Holzer, a rep for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
D.C.'s Metro isn't as storied or sprawling as New York's subway, but it is the second-busiest rapid-transit system in the U.S. (after NYC), according to the American Public Transit Association. With passenger safety among its top concerns, Metro's extensive security measures include a high-tech surveillance network and hundreds of armed police, Holzer says. Those police officers — 420 of them, to be specific, both in uniform and plain-clothes — do everything from assist lost children to keep riders calm in emergencies. Bomb-sniffing dogs prowl subway restrooms, platforms and train cars for the threat of unseen dangers. And the Metro Transit Police Department also employs more than 100 “special police,” officers with jurisdiction and arrest powers throughout the 1,500-square-mile transit zone.
These aren't just “mall security guards,” Holzer notes. “Our Metro transit police … do in fact have anti-terrorist training.”
Good to know, but that kind of training might not even be necessary to prevent a 'Pelham'-style attack. Though the movie's hijackers are thoroughly unpleasant, they're hardly “terrorists.” Nor are they threatening to bring the NYC transportation system to its knees with canisters of sarin gas or pocket-size bio-weapons. These guys are cold-hearted and money-hungry, only interested in offing hostages if their ransom demands aren't met. (Those demands, by the way, have been given a 2009 make-over, too, up to $10 million from the original movie's $1 million.)
As one might expect (and hope), passenger security is allegedly a high priority for the NYC Metro Transit Authority, too. Teams of NYPD officers patrol the subways daily, some armed with machine guns or rifles; explosive-sniffing dogs are backed up by random, airport-style bag inspections. In addition, a severely overdue, over-budget electronic surveillance system created with the help of Lockheed Martin is expected to be installed in subways throughout the city by 2011. (We'll see.) In the meantime, NYC Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly says transit-system crime is already down since last year.
It's definitely down since the early '70s. Back then, the Transit Authority of NY at first refused to allow filmmakers to shoot the original 'Taking of Pelham One Two Three' in the actual NYC subway, as they feared it would lead to copy-cat violence. They finally did cooperate — at the then-mayor's “request” — but reportedly required United Artists to spring for $75,000 worth of anti-hijacking insurance.
In 2008, Tony Scott and his crew spent four weeks shooting 'The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3' in the transit tunnels below New York City. Given practically carte blanche access, what resulted was the most extensive movie production in NYC subway history.
And what if this 'Taking of Pelham' re-make does give some nut the idea to hijack a subway train?
D.C. Metro's Holzer just doesn't see that happening.
Anyway, he says, “where would they take it?”
Good question. Now watch the 'Taking of Pelham 1 2 3' trailer, and see for yourself.