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Off the Rails on - The Best Documentaries... Instantly On Demand

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Off the Rails Length: 90mins
Published: 24 Jan, 2017
Darius McCollum has a love of transport that has led to him being jailed 32 times, spending 23 years in prison, despite never harming any person or property. Suffering from Asperger’s syndrome, over 3 decades Darius has commandeered New York buses and subway trains – only to correctly drive their routes and announce the stops. A remarkable story of society's failure to channel the harmless passions of a mentally challenged man into a productive life.

“Over the years I have operated trains in the New York City subway system, Metro North, Long Island Railroad, New Jersey Transit. And yet I have never, ever been an employee of any of these agencies.” Darius recounts his exploits as he proudly dresses in his uniform, smoothing out the creases and testing his whistle. His compulsion to get commuters from A to B has resulted in half a lifetime in jail, but he is unable to control his urge.

Ever since he was nearly killed with a pair of scissors by a fellow pupil during his school days, Darius has taken refuge in the regularity and order of the New York subway system. He would escape the anxiety of life and retreat underground. “I felt protected down there. That was like my safe-haven, my sanctuary”, he recounts. He befriended the drivers and conductors, who loved teaching him the technical aspects of the trains. One day a driver invited him to help drive the train. It awoke something within him that would shape the rest of his life. “I guess you could say it was like losing my virginity”.

Shortly after his first drive Darius was arrested for commandeering a train; he was 15 years old. This was the first escapade in an endless cycle of impersonation and incarceration. An anonymous MTA employee explains why they can't just hire Darius: "they would have an employee who probably knows more than anybody who works there. This is somebody who would not just love their job, but live for their job. But the MTA cannot take a chance with Darius McCollum. He's a loose cannon". Despite spending over 23 years behind bars, the urge to re-offend consumed Darius, driven by an obsession stemming from his Asperger’s Syndrome and a desire to fit in. “I feel like I’m proud. I feel I’m worthy of something. I feel like I’m part of something”.

After his last stint in prison Darius is free from parole restriction, free to live with his ailing parents in North Carolina, and free to start over. If caught again, however, he faces a mandatory sentence of 15 years to life. But will this be enough to keep him off the rails, and allow him to live a normal life?

“An excellent documentary” - LA Times
“An absolute must see… as high a recommendation as I can give” – Unseen Films


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