The Lesson of the Train

June 29, 2022 –

Railroad tracks run thru the center of my hometown, Lakeland, Florida. Often this causes a traffic backup delay and inconvenience to me when I must travel through the city.

Earlier this week, while being delayed by a stopped freight train on the tracks ahead of me, I used my phone to search for information on freight trains. The data showed the average number of rail cars attached to a locomotive is 60 cars. The typical freight car weighs 30 tons empty and can carry an additional 100 tons loaded. The locomotive could weigh anywhere from 100 to 225 tons. 

At the first sign of movement, I saw something unique. The train engineer backed the train before he moved it forward. I thought that strange—to back up before moving forward. Then I realized the engineer was creating slack between the engine and the loaded cars. This slackened space provided the engine room to get moving forward before it engaged the heavy load of cars.

The lesson of the train is when you have a trainload of problems, it helps to back up to give yourself some slack. Some time to define the problems and your decisions that led to the current situation. List what you can and what you can’t do to help solve your problem. After listing the can-do’s, eliminate the distraction of the can-nots. You now have less baggage—fewer train cars to pull and some slack to move forward to solve your problem.

We make a big mistake when we think our problems are too heavy to solve. Remember the lesson of the train: give yourself some slack.