Starlight Express is the first TV special of Chuggington: Meet Thomas, Trainees! It has the same plot as the musical, but different characters fill in.
The musical opens with the disembodied voice of Vee (whom we never see), who is playing with her trains, ordering all trains to racing mode. As Vee falls asleep, still murmuring her plans, the Overture gently picks up. The music crescendos with the cast emerging in the half-dark to skate around the track, almost comes to a climax but is rudely interrupted by the opening crashes of "Rolling Stock". Harrison (Greaseball) and his Gang of diesel thugs pour onto the stage to sing their own praises, namely that they are rolling stock and very fast. Harrison dares anyone to challenge him in a race - "this is my back view, and it's all you'll see".
Thomas, Brewster, Wilson and Koko (Rusty) the train and trainees relegated to the sidings, enter, singing that nobody can do it like a steam train. Harrison and his Gang intimidate them then leave, leaving him to sing his defiant "Call us Thomas, Brewster, Wilson and Koko" as they bring on the Coaches, dreaming of racing in the championship races and winning. The lyrics play on the ambiguity of "Thomas, Brewster, Wilson and Koko" being both an adjective and their name, with the theme of "call us trains if you like/call us trains if you dare". The Coaches question Thomas, Brewster, Koko and Wilson's abilities to race - they aren't fast enough, they aren't strong enough. Thomas and the trainees exit, leaving the Coaches to introduce themselves with the song "A Lotta Locomotion". Ashley is a smoking car, who has tried to "kick the habit" but can't, Buffy the buffet car offers snacks that are "hot, and cheap, and quick", Dinah is a dining car who'll cook for you, and provide a willing ear for your problems. Pearl is the "Brand new girl", who has agreed in the past to race with Hodge as his partner, but is now having reservations about his ability..
The posturing Greaseball returns, with the 2nd and 3rd class Sleepers (Joule and Volta in quickchange costumes) in tow. Together with the coaches, they all sing "Pumping Iron", another tribute to diesel's, and Greaseball's, greatness.
Rusty brings on the freight train, which consists of the three boxcars Dragon (Rockies), Ed (Flat Top), Mosquito (Dustin) and C. J. (C. B.). After bickering with the Coaches, they introduce themselves with the song "Freight".
At the end of the number the national representives, of France (Bobo), Italy (Espresso), Germany (Weltschaft), Russia (Turnov), Japan (Hashamoto) and Great Britain (The City of Milton Keynes) arrive, and line up to take their partners for the first heat, but before they can do anything there is a surprise late entry. The lights going out herald the arrival of Emery, the Electric Train, introduced by his five components- Krupp (an armaments truck), Wrench (a repair truck), Purse (a money truck), Volta (a freezer truck), and Joule (a dynamite truck). Emery is as much of a show-off as Harrison. He sings his own praises in the song "AC/DC", superficially claiming that he can run on either Alternating Current or Direct Current, but also referring to the fact that he will take either male or female partners.
Now all the engines pair up with their racing partners, ready for the first heat. Emery sends a messenger to woo Pearl by proxy, inviting her to race with him. In her indecision over who to race with, Pearl leaves Hodge unconnected, then sings him the energetic "He'll Whistle at Me" about the engine of her dreams, who is a steam train who whistles at her. She then goes off to race with Electra.
"Heat One" sees Harrison and Dinah cheat, bully and force their way ahead of Hashamoto and Espresso, racing with C.J. and Buffy respectively.
Dinah isn't happy about cheating, and says as much to Harrison. He knocks her to the floor and leaves her there, despite her pleas and apologies. C.J. congratulates the pair on a good race, then, seeing that Dinah is alone, sings her the much acclaimed ballad "There's Me".
Old Puffer Pete (Poppa) enters to much fanfare from the Rockies to sing the blues. "Puffer Pete's Blues" gives us a little tutorial on singing the blues, then Thomas, Brewster, Koko, Wilson and Hodge appear, looking downtrodden. Pete asks them what's wrong, and discovers that unless they can race with Pearl, Thomas and the trainees are reluctant to race at all. To persuade them that they can still race and win, that there is still hope, Pete introduces them to another carriage they can race with - Belle, the sleeping car.
Belle, apparently asleep in a coal bunker, wakes and sings "Belle, the Sleeping Car", the story of her life. She formerly raced with Puffer Pete. Thomas, Koko, Wilson, Brewster and Hodge ask her to race with them, and she accepts.
In "Heat Two", Thomas and the trainees lose to Emery (racing with Pearl) and Weltschaft with Joule. Utterly disheartened, Thomas and the trainees return to the junkyard where Puffer Pete entreats him to trust in the Starlight Express. Thomas, however curious, does believe in the Starlight Express (he says he's never seen his face, but dreams to travel to space with him and see his face). To prove his existence, Puffer Pete announces that he is going to race. There's just one problem - all the places for Heat Three are taken. Suddenly, and apparently through divine intervention, Vee announces a vacancy - the British train has been scrapped. Taking this as a sign from the Starlight Express, Poppa pairs up with Mosquito (the only freight truck who will go with him) - Dragon, he was partnered to the City of Milton Keynes, and Ed refused and races.
"Heat Three" is barely won by Puffer Pete, with Bobo coming a close second and Turnov taking up the rear. Although he has won, the race nearly kills Puffer Pete - there is no way he can race again in the final. He begs Thomas, Hodge and the trainees to take his place. Unsure what to do, and believing in its existence and his dream anyway, Thomas asks the Starlight Express for help to him, Hodge and the trainees with the song "Starlight Express".
The act opens with "The Rap", in which the whole cast argue over the validity of Thomas, Hodge and the trainees' claim to Puffer Pete's place. After all, he has already raced once and been disqualified - but on the other hand, Puffer Pete has the right to name his successor. It is eventually decided that Thomas, the trainees and Hodge will race, rather than runner-up Bobo, partnered with C.J. Harrison, having dumped Dinah, now invites Pearl to switch sides and race with him instead of Emery. Declaring that it's "only fun", Pearl accepts.
Dinah sings about her newly-single state in the country and western style "U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D". She mourns that she will be the subject of ridicule from the other trains, but all the same, vows that she will never forgive Harrison, or take him back.
Belle, Buffy and Ashley persuade her to cheer up and try to get her man back in "Rolling Stock: Reprise" by being more active, aggressive and manipulative. Shortly thereafter, Emery invites Dinah to race with him which, in the name of getting Harrison jealous, she accepts.
C.J. meets with Emery, and reveals his psychotic and destructive nature with the song "C.J.", in which he admits to causing all the major train crashes in recent history. He agrees to fix the race so that Emery wins.
The "Uphill Final" is a dead heat between Emery and Harrison, with Thomas, the trainees and Hodge held back by C.J, who caused him to miss a vital connection and thus the rest of the race. When Pearl discovers this and declares that she's going to the race marshall to tell them, Harrison turns nasty on her and tells her that if she does that, she'll be disqualified herself. Lamenting that this wasn't how she wanted things to go, she stays quiet. C.J. taunts Thomas, Hodge and the trainees that they're no real engines, and never stood a chance in the first place.
Thomas, the trainees and Hodge don't get long to feel sorry for themselves though, as the Dragons descend to tell him that that's just how things are - no matter how talented you are, if you aren't lucky, you'll never win. "Right Place, Right Time" is arguably a complaint about racism - the Dragons and both Steam trains are black, and are therefore at an automatic disadvantage.
Finally hitting rock bottom, Thomas, the trainees and Hodge once more beg the Starlight Express to help them and Thomas with his dream, and this time, in the "Starlight Sequence", get an answer. The Starlight Express appears and says that it will help them win, and that Hodge is, himself, the Starlight Express. The Starlight Express finally reveals himself to Thomas, showing his face and taking him on a ride through space. Suddenly Hodge has a lot of faith. After the ride and as the music (the thwarted climax from the overture) dies away, Thomas, the trainees and Hodge hear coughing in the background. It is Mosquito, the aggregate hopper boxcar. Thomas, the trainees and Hodge ask Mosquito to race with them in the final race, and Mosquito readily agrees.
Dinah is fed up with racing. She expects a train to whistle at her, and Emery doesn't, so she disconnects him ("He Whistled at Me" (reprise)). Unperturbed, Emery asks C.J. to race with him instead.
The "Downhill Final" sees Harrison and Pearl, Emery and C.J. and Thomas, the trainees, Hodge and Mosquito pitted against each other. Emery and Harrison are not concentrating on the race, instead they are scrapping amongst themselves. Under cover of the row, Thomas, Koko, Wilson, Brewster and Hodge take the lead, only to lose it again when Harrison realises that Pearl is holding him back and uncouples her, and Hodge stops to rescue her. But now Harrison has no partner. The rules of the race state that each engine has to race with a coach. His only option is to try to take C.J. from Emery. The engines fight over him, allowing Thomas, Koko, Wilson, Brewster and Hodge to take the lead and this time they keep it and are the overall champions. Harrison, Emery and C.J., meanwhile, veer into a tunnel and crash.
Pride beyond wounded, Emery staggers back onto stage, having somehow separated himself from Harrison and C.J.- minus his wig - and rages about the unfairness of his losing. After singing the musical tirade, "No Comeback", he disappears from the musical, never to be seen again.
Harrison and C.J. - what's left of them - trundle onto the stage to announce that they have had "One Rock 'n' Roll Too Many". The entire cast (minus Thomas, Koko, Wilson, Brewster, Hodge, Pearl, Puffer Pete and Mosquito) have a good laugh at them. Puffer Pete then demands that Harrison take them to where he left Pearl, as Hodge is bound to be there, and he hasn't claimed his title yet.
Pearl is alone, and sings the power ballad "Only He". Finally she realises that it was always Hodge that she should have been with, and worries that it may be too late to repair all the damage she has unwittingly caused; Hodge appears and forgives her instantly, and together they sing "Only You".
Then the rest of the cast descend upon them. Buffy and Ashley reflect on how lovely it is when they see romance on the railroad. Harrison apologises to Dinah, and, forgetting her anger, she follows Thomas, Koko, Wilson, Brewster and Hodge's leads, and instantly takes him back.
Puffer Pete then tells Harrison that he can be converted to steam, saying that he would then be under his own control - at which point Vee orders the trains to obey her, and do what they're told. They tell her to shut it.
Puffer Pete and Belle then lead the company in a rousing rendition of "Light at the End of the Tunnel", a gospel-inspired number singing the praises of steam power. The show then finished with the cast skating round the theatre, greeting the audience, to an orchestral reprise of "Light At The End of the Tunnel".