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Train robberies were more common in the past than today, when the speed of trains was slower, and often occurred in the American Old West. Trains carrying payroll shipments were a major target. These shipments would be guarded by an expressman whose duty it was to protect the cargo of the "express car". Expressmen, conductors, and other personnel took enormous pride in their duty and had no problem with risking their lives for a shipment.
Bandits would rely on the expressman to open the safe and provide the goods. Without the combination required for the combination lock, it was almost impossible to break into the safes. However, the invention of dynamite made it much easier to break into safes and rob the train. If the outlaw was unsatisfied with the goods, passengers of the train's carriages, who were generally unarmed, would be held at gunpoint and forced to hand over any valuables they were carrying, usually in the form of jewelry or currency.
Contrary to the method romanticized by Hollywood, outlaws were never known to jump from horseback onto a moving train. Usually, they would either board the train normally and wait for a good time to initiate the heist, or they would stop or derail the train and then begin the holdup.
Famous train robbers include Bill Miner, Jesse James, and Butch Cassidy. Jesse James is mistakenly thought to have completed the first successful train robbery in the American West when on July 21, 1873 the James-Younger Gang took US $3,000 from a Rock Island Railroad train after derailing it southwest of the town of Adair, Iowa. However, the first peacetime train robbery in the United States actually occurred on October 6, 1866, when robbers boarded the Ohio & Mississippi train shortly after it left Seymour, Indiana. They broke into one safe and tipped the other off the train before jumping off. The Pinkerton National Detective Agency later traced the crime to the Reno Gang. There was one earlier train robbery in May 1865, but because it was committed by armed guerrillas and occurred shortly after the end of the Civil War, it is not considered to be the first peacetime train robbery in the United States. Some sources say that the May 1865 robbery took place at a water siding while the train was stopped taking on water.
List of train robbers
Famous train robberies
- Great Gold Robbery of 1855, United Kingdom - France (1855)
- Union Pacific Big Springs robbery, California, USA (1877)
- Canyon Diablo Train Robbery, Arizona, USA (1889)
- Fairbank Train Robbery, Arizona, USA (1900)
- Rogów raid, Poland (1906)
- Bezdany raid, Lithuania (1908)
- Baxter's Curve Train Robbery, Texas, USA (1912)
- Kakori Train Robbery, India (1925)
- Attaque du train d'or, France (1968)
- Japeri Train Robbery, Brazil (1960)
- Great Train Robbery, United Kingdom (1963)
- Sallins Train Robbery, Ireland (1976)
- The Great Train Robbery, film (1903)
- O Assalto ao Trem Pagador (1962) a Brazilian film which portrays the Japeri Train Robbery.
- The Great Train Robbery, novel (1975)
- The First Great Train Robbery, film, (1979)
- The Train Job, an episode of the TV series Firefly that involved a train robbery.
- Dead Freight, an episode of the TV series Breaking Bad in which methylamine is stolen from a train.
- The Chase novel by Clive Cussler in paperback now
- The backstory of a roller coaster at the planned ThrillVania theme park involves the robbery of the Omaha Limited 412 on its way to deliver cattle and money to San Francisco.
- Tough Guys (1986) a comedy film about two elderly former train robbers who conspire to commit one last great train robbery.
- "James Train Robbery". Rits.org. 1985-08-07. Retrieved 2012-06-08.