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A group of robbers in the Old West (of America) are planning a daring heist. They intend to rob a newly commissioned train on its maiden trip across the country. This train will have an upper-class crowd celebrating the trip, along with a great deal of private security.

The plan is to pose as waiters in one of the dining cars until the train leaves populated areas, then rob as many wealthy patrons as possible and bail with the loot.

The issue is the speed of the train, and the likely death involved in jumping off it.

How can these robbers survive jumping off a train moving at 60mph?

Assume:

  • The robbers are limited to what resources they can stow aboard the car(s) that they will be working.
  • The loot will be cash and jewelry from the patrons, and will likely not add a great deal of weight/bulk.
  • The method of bailing should be as independent as possible of the state of the train (except passing over water of course) so that the robbers can escape whenever they need to.
  • Technology is limited to what is readily available in the eastern United States in the 1870s
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  • $\begingroup$ how is this not idea generation? $\endgroup$ – rumguff Oct 22 '15 at 18:35
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I like Tim's answer but here are a couple more, many of these were used by bandits at one time or another.

All rail lines have bends and hills/mountains they have to deal with. They slow down going up hill and when they need to take sharp corners. Plans to work on these locations could slow the train down enough to make it 'safe' to disembark, especially if they have a mattress or something to jump off with. Knowing these locations ahead of time can even have an accomplice waiting with get-a-way horses.

get to the last car uncouple it and use the hand break to slow it down.

High-jack the engineer and have him slow the train down after the robbery.

Decide on a time/location ahead of time, rob the train, and have an accomplice(s) block the track to stop the train.

Now this is one of my own invention, have collapsible hang-gliders in the baggage hold, get them on top of the train after getting your loot, put on your glider and 'pop' the spring loaded wings and 'fly' off the train to land safely near by.

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  • $\begingroup$ That last idea is definitely exotic. Do you think it's plausible? $\endgroup$ – Danny Reagan Oct 22 '15 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ @DannyReagan barely, but yes. they don't need to be a full sized glider, just wings big enough to get you off the train and slow you down. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Oct 22 '15 at 17:37
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    $\begingroup$ I like the hang glider, but it is a bit over the top i think. But a combination of a bridge and a parachute would make for a quite spectacular getaway scene. The advantage of the parachute over the hangglider is that it deploys itself (hopefully) $\endgroup$ – Burki Oct 23 '15 at 7:52
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Create some lightweight handcar-style contraptions and stash them in the baggage car. Once you've completed the robbery run to the back of the train. Put the handcar on the tracks, step onto it, then let go of the train and apply the brakes.

enter image description here

Your contraption can actually be considerably simpler than this as you just need somewhere for everyone to stand/sit and a brake.

To make deploying easier I'd actually have some guides built to pull the wheels into the right place as it drops onto the track. Tie the two guides to the back of the train, drop them down and slot them onto the rail, then run the cart down the guides onto the rails, again tying the cart to the back of the train.

Once the cart is in place one conspirator stays with it while the rest do the robbery and then run back, jump on, and away you go.

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  • $\begingroup$ Interesting. How easy would this be to deploy by hand out of a moving train? Also, do they have an option for bailing out the side of a train? $\endgroup$ – Danny Reagan Oct 22 '15 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ This wouldn't work out of the side of a train, you would need something else for that (even if there was another track along side it would be near impossible to deploy the cart onto it). I've added some more ideas on how deployment would work. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Oct 22 '15 at 16:41
  • $\begingroup$ Why not just cut loose the rear car? $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Oct 22 '15 at 21:01
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The traditional way to bail from a moving vehicle would be to jump in such a way as to absorb a lot of energy, then roll out to continue the deceleration process.

The jump will need you to adopt a position similar to the "PLF" (Parachute Landing Fall) with feet and knees together so the shock can be absorbed relatively equally by both legs. Tucking and rolling out will need to be practiced, so the would be robbers should spend several weeks or months to practice at increasing speeds.

The other issue is that they will need to be as light as possible, so the extra mass won't increase the force of impact the robbers will experience. The loot will have to be ejected separately in duffel bags or strong barrels or boxes that won't break on impact. Under these circumstances, stealing Waterford crystal isn't going to be part of the plan.

Of course a bit of preparation work won't hurt either. The robbers should choose their exit point carefully to ensure it is as smooth and level. Removing rocks and other obstacles is highly recommended, and laying down a thick layer of sand will make landing even safer. The railway employees might wonder what is going on along the right of way, but perhaps the robbers could pretend to be building something. This also gives them the ability to stash away the horses and other gear needed to escape.

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