It's a case of Murphy's Law, with one terrifying incident encountering another, each set up plan to prevent the runaway train from: hitting another train with a load of school children on it (eliminated all too easily, too early in the scheme of things), to switch onto a safe track to prevent a pending collision, to avoid causing disaster in a town with the sharpest curve any train ever had to traverse, etc. Mark Bomback's script calls for all that and more, taking the time to introduce two groups of people who comprise each of the two men's background - a bit too obviously introduced, but probably considered as de rigueur to flesh out the characters normal lives as it heightens an increased need to save the now desperate men along with everyone else living within the deadly space through which they speed, from town to town down the Pennsylvania tracks.
Bomack also inserted alternate shots of people along the way, watching the goings on as seen on TV, shot from a sky full of helicopters, from interviews of the friends & families, etc. Multiple cameras (director Tony Scott's signature when shooting action flicks)are employed, covering action from every angle possible - in the air, underneath the speeding train, observing people's reactions - while cinematographer Ben Seresin reveals chaotic variety in every scene. Scott also works with Chris Lebenzon & Robert Duffy on the editing - again typically inserting at least three or four angles of the action for each scene.
The total effect, as you might expect, holds you on edge, right down to that terrifyingly obligatory moment as the train is forced around that sharp turn. Even an icky denouement fails to slow down the pulse rate from 98-minutes of suspenseful thrills.
In all, it's high keyed suspense concealing the fact that the script only later feels stupid & artificially controlled. Washington is exceptionally fine & believable, and Rosario Dawson (as the office go-between) shines as well. (Grade: B)