Off the Rails

Darius McCollum takes great pride in the Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA) uniform he wears. Not only does he strive to ensure that riders have a safe and enjoyable ride with each train he conducts, but he is also willing to protest for better wages for MTA workers, even if it means spending 20 days in jail as a result. McCollum’s dedication and extensive knowledge of the MTA vehicles and systems would make him the make him the model employee if he actually worked for the MTA.

Adam Irving’s documentary Off the Rails takes audiences into the mind of one of New York’s most famous train bandits. Racking up over 32 convictions , for stealing various trains and buses, McCollum is not your traditional criminal. He does not steal for financial gain; in fact, he takes the stolen vehicles on their regular routes and picks up passengers on schedule.

Falling in love with trains at an early age, the cavernous underground transit system became his personal sanctuary. A place where McCollum, an individual living with Asperger’s Syndrome, was free from bullies and could live out his dreams uninterrupted. Befriending many of the MTA staff, and mastering the transit processes, he got the opportunity, thanks to a negligent conductor, to drive one of the MTA trains by himself at age fifteen; making all the stops without any incident.

Thrilled by the experience, and encouraged by the media attention that his arrest garnered, a thirst grew within McCollum, one that he would spend the rest of his life trying to quench. When his attempts at becoming a legitimate transit official failed, the young Queens native did the next best thing, he started impersonating one.

Off the Rails questions what McCollum’s life would be like if he had been given the proper therapeutic attention he desperately needed. Irving paints a picture of a correctional system in need of change. Unprepared to properly deal with individuals suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome, the courts routinely exhibited the mentality that simply locking McCollum up would scare the train obsession out of him.

Although Irving makes a compelling case for the system falling McCollum, not all of the potential solutions that the film offers feel plausible. For example, several people champion the notion that that MTA should just hire McCollum in some capacity or another. However, as one anonymous MTA worker points out, McCollum’s unpredictable nature is too great of a risk.

Offering an intriguing example of why Asperger’s Syndrome education is important at all levels of society, Off the Rails is a sobering look at a man who, without access to the proper support and education, is destined to remain stuck on a circular track unable to get off the train.

Wednesday, May 4, 9:15 PM, Scotiabank Theatre
Friday, May 6, 1:00 PM, Scotiabank Theatre
Sunday, May 8, 7:15 PM, Scotiabank Theatre

Tickets can be purchased at the Hot Docs website.