John Travolta chose not to promote the film with the rest of the cast because he was still reeling from the loss of his son Jett.
The New York Transit Authority for years after the novel and the original film barred its planners from scheduling a train leaving Pelham at 1:23 in the morning or afternoon. Although the policy was rescinded, as a superstition the dispatchers still avoid scheduling a train at that time.
The movie pays homage to Walter Matthau, who played Lieutenant Zachary Garber in the 1974 movie by naming 'Denzel Washington's character Walter Garber. Also, while Lieutenant Zachary Garber wore a plaid shirt and yellow tie, Walter Garber wears a yellow shirt and similar pattern plaid tie.
James Gandolfini's portrayal of the Mayor is an obvious composite of two real former NYC mayors: his appearance and attitude is clearly based on Giuliani. However, an exchange between him and Ryder, where Ryder teases him about taking an annual salary of only $1, is a clear reference to Bloomberg.
Ryder says to Garber, "You live, you die, you either go with the current or you fight it, but you all end up in the same place", to which Garber asks, "Where's that, Jersey". Ryder then says, "Yeah, you watch it, I was born there man." John Travolta, who plays Ryder, was born in Englewood, New Jersey.
First blood is a railroad term describing the first time an engineer killed someone on the tracks.
One of the bad guys was a teamster on the set with an actual criminal past who Tony Scott hired because he felt he played a bad guy convincingly enough.
The production team worked closely with the MTA and was given access to the MTA control room for research.
The title derives from the train's radio call sign. When a New York City subway train leaves to make a run, it's given a call sign based on the time it left and where, in this case Pelham Bay Park Station at 1:23pm.
Garber talks about choosing between purchasing trains from a Japanese company and a Canadian company. Although not mentioned by name, this refers to Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Bombardier Transportation, who have both manufactured subway trains for New York.
The R-142 and R-142A subway cars portrayed in this film are permanently linked into 5-car sets and cannot operate as single units. R-62A 2079, a single car capable of operating alone, was cosmetically modified to resemble a modern car for this film and restored to its original appearance after filming was completed.
The original movie was released in 1974 and the remake in 2009, 35 years later. Robert Shaw starred in the 1974 version and James Gandolfini in the 2009 version. Both men died of heart attacks 35 years apart (Shaw in 1978 and Gandolfini in 2013) both men were aged 51.
While negotiating with Garber on the phone, Ryder says the hostages aren't getting pizza. In the movie Inside Man, Denzels Washington's character is a hostage negotiator who sends in pizza for the hostages being held in the bank.
In the novel, the ransom demand is $1 million, and so it was in the original film, but the remake has upgraded it to $10 million. Ryder says a million dollar ransom is a corny asking price.
Fifth and last time John Travolta and James Gandolfini acted together on the same movie before Gandolfini's death in 2013. They had previously worked on Get Shorty (1995), She's So Lovely (1997), A Civil Action (1998) and Lonely Hearts (2006).
Ryder in the book is a methodical criminal mastermind, like Robert Shaw in the original film, but not like John Travolta who has a hair trigger temper.
In the novel, Ryder doesn't mind talking to others, but in the remake he talks only to Garber. He also converses more with the hostages in the book.
The runaway train climax foreshadows the plot of Tony Scott's final film, Unstoppable (2010).
Despite the fact that this was filmed in Super 35, "Filmed in Panavision" is listed in the end credits.
In the movie, from the audience's viewpoint, Ryder (John Travolta) is seen wearing an earring on his right ear while Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) has one on his left. Also notice that both of them has only a single earring.
The IND Hoyt-Schermerhorn station in Brooklyn was used in the scene where Garber enters the tunnel to deliver the ransom money.
In the novel, the Mayor has flu but in the remake he says he always gets flu when visiting schools so wants a flu shot on standby. But the Mayor is ill with something that could be life-threatening. His wife is in the novel but they've separated in the remake because of his infidelity.
An officer gives Garber a stainless Walther PPK and puts it in one of the money bags marked with a wire tie on the handles. But later when they get off the train. As one of the bad guys is carrying one of the bags, a gust of wind from a moving train causes a bag to fall on the ground. Garber reaches down and pulls the gun from the bag to put in his pocket. Now the gun is something completely different from the Walther PPK that was originally given to him by the officer .
The seemingly bad continuity random shots including rain, over parts of the city, may be actually written off within the story, and reality, as a legitimate weather pattern where rain clouds might just happen to pass over localized areas while raining, leaving the rest of a large area dry. This isn't such an unusual weather event, particularly noticeable in cities.
In the novel, Ryder's mother died of cancer, and his father was bludgeoned by an ashtray. He entered military service, like Vietnam, and perhaps this was the case in the original film, but doubtful in the remake.
John Turturro and Ramon Rodriguez both stared in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) together the same year.
Ryder's men hijack the train at 2:00pm, but in the novel it's at 1:23pm, like the number of the train.
We see some of the hostages in the aftermath in the novel. An in-joke in the novel is that someone wants to write up what happened as a novel.
John Benjamin Hickey (Deputy Mayor LaSalle) also co-starred with Denzel Washington in The Bone Collector (1999) as did Luis Guzman (Phil Ramos).
In the novel we learn more of the hijackers motivations and converse more with the hostages.
A scene in the novel that was omitted from the remake is the rape of a 14-year old girl.
In both this and the original film, the hijackers have different names than in the novel, with the exception of Ryder.
We see the money being withdrawn and the people doing it in the novel but not in the remake.
Ryder's men wear disguises in the novel, and in the original film, but not the remake.
In the novel, Ryder's men come from criminal backgrounds that were recommended to him.
In the novel, one of the hostages asks the hijackers to let him off at their stop while making an escape. There is also a disobedient boy wanting to be let off that has to be chastised by his mother.
In the novel, the NYPD assume Ryder and his men are small-timers for wanting a million dollar ransom instead of a ten million dollar ransom, which is what they want in the remake.
In the novel, the first time we meet the Mayor is at his mansion, having a tryst with a monk, and not on another train like the remake. In the remake, his marriage is in trouble but not for the same reason. The Mayor (Sam in the novel) even considers letting the hijackers keep the train because New York doesn't have a million dollars, which was a lot of money in 1973 when the book was written.
The hijackers use tommy-guns in the novel but not the remake, perhaps because they're only effective at close range.
The novel was a best seller in 1973, until first being turned into a hit film, with Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw, in 1974.
In the novel, Ryder gets the idea for the hijacking after reading in the paper about two men who stuck up a change booth at a subway station in the Bronx.
In the novel, Ryder gets off the train to plant two grenades on the track to release the levers on the track.
The motorman dies differently in the novel; he gets gunned down when a sniper kills one of the hijackers, and not by Ryder. It also angers the public and the cops trying to control them.
The novel goes into more detail about the hostages than the remake, and one is even attacked by a hijacker for being racist.
Garber doesn't drive the train in the novel but one of the hijackers does. There are also cops following behind the train.
In the novel, Ryder allows for the money to be delivered to the station by 3:13 p.m., but not the remake.
In the novel, Garber is the operations Lieutenant, the man in charge, and more impatient than Denzel Washington. In the film, he's just a train dispatcher.
An element of racism was in the novel because of the time it was written, but not the remake where Garber has been recast with a Black actor.
Lasalle's first name in the novel is Murray and we see him trying to get the money.
The equivalent of Garber in the novel, is someone named Prescott, and he's not as level-headed as Garber in the remake. He's an operations Lieutenant, and a minor character, and views the escape from the train at transit police headquarters.
Salon owner and hair stylist Danny Moumdjian is the subject of one of the bonus features of the DVD release. Moumdjian died of a drug overdose four years later.
Many of the original 1974 movie details have been kept intact in the 2009 remake, one of the characters working at the control center in 1974 resembles closely Garber boss in the remake, Garber is under trial for being suspect to pocketing money backhand from Japan industries working in the business, in the 1974 movie he brings visitors from Japan in the MTA control center, to name two among the several connections among the two movies.
Nicolas Cage turned down playing Ryder to Prepare for Bad Lieutenant Port Of Call New Orleans (2009)