Yes, I've played in disasters that were railroaded from the words, "Roll up your character"... and to be honest, I've even DMed some of them when I was younger and less experienced.
When I set up my world for a new campaign arc, I figure out what all is happening in the world (like real life stuff). For ease of examples, I will use (some) real life (with historical inaccuracies) to demonstrate. Campaign starts on January 1st.
Jan 1 - campaign starts
Jan 15 - Large oil field is found in wilderness near the frozen north.
Jan 22 - Princess Di is married to the ugly Prince Charles. Ceremony in Landon, week of holiday celebration kingdom-wide.
Feb 15 - Tax collector and his guards are slain in PC's hometown. Goblins killed them, but set it up to look like Red Ring assassins
Mar 10 - Huge earthquake and tsunami devastates Nippon. Huge magical experiment goes haywire and residual magic makes people sick for miles around.
Apr 20 - Large oil geyser blows up off of fertile fishing grounds in southern US. Millions of gallons spilled, starvation feared.
Jul 10 - Explorer comes back from trip far to the west - where he claims that he found a new route to India. LOADS of merchants and explorers want to set up missions!!
Nov 23 - President Kennedy shot as his processional heads through Dallas. Shooter is part of Order of the Red Ring.
This is just a quick example of what I do - and some of it MAY be of interest to the players - other stuff will just be mentioned when they go to an inn. Can you imagine a stupid stop in London to find out that there is going to be the biggest wedding in centuries tomorrow? If the players are in London, are they going to care that Japan got hit by an earthquake?
Just write out an outline of stuff that MUST happen, no matter what actions the players take. Then, as the campaign arc progresses, you can refer back to it to see if anything changes. If Mata Hari and Boris Yeltzen are supposed to meet on June 15th to discuss invading Florida - but the players met with Yeltzen on June 1st and got him to change his mind, then the meeting will go much differently!! If the players are in a book depository in Dallas in late November, they may be able to stop the assassination... or they may be witnesses.
I know the temptation of wanting players to follow the story - but do your best to not do it. One thing I found was to purposely prepare NOTHING for a gaming session, then just tell the players that nothing is prepared and that THEY have to decide what to do that session. Oh, I guarantee that I totally SUCKS to be on the spot like that, but it will help get you out of the railroading mindset.