Follow the Rules? Maybe not…

Posted on March 16, 2010

This story came from a friend and colleague in Brisbane, Australia. I’d love to hear from someone in the rail industry to substantiate this story – it is a good anecdote for thinking twice about following ”the rules.”

Good news: It was a normal day in Sharon Springs, KS, when a railroad crew boarded a loaded coal train for the long trek to Salina, KS.

The Bad news: Just a few miles into the trip a wheel bearing became overheated and melted, letting a metal support drop down and grind on the rail, creating white hot molten metal droppings spewing down to the rail.

The Good news: A very alert crew noticed smoke about halfway back in the train and immediately stopped the train in compliance with the rules.

The Bad news: The train stopped with the hot wheel over a wooden bridge with creosote ties and trusses.

The crew tried to explain to management but were instructed not to move the train! They were instructed “The Rules” prohibit moving the train when a part is defective! The molten metal droppings made short work of the wooden bridge – it quickly caught fire and collapsed, taking a number of train cars along with it.


(Don’t let common sense get in the way of a good disaster!)

Intelligent Disobedience Leadership provides workshops, coaching and consulting with a focus on courageous leadership through intelligent disobedience, along with an understanding of when we should abandon the rules! We can help you and your teams design a community of practice which leverages constructive “intelligent disobedience.” For further information, email us at