Updated date:

Off the Rails, a Poem About a Train

John is a long-time poet, short fiction, and article writer. He loves story-telling and also has a Certificate in Permaculture Design.


Introduction to the Poem

In a reply to my comment on one of his recent articles, Eric's Sunday Sermon, My "Station" in Life" my friend Eric Dierker suggested that I write a story about my time in the Railways.

"John I had forgotten that history of yours. I can't help it. Trains are romantic to me. Please tell us a story or 45 about working there. I even think people act differently at train stations. Just me I suppose."

That made me realise that although I was employed in the railways for 17 years I have never really written a 'train' inspired poem. Thank you, Eric, for the suggestion. So, here it is.

Off the Rails

The locomotive rattles by,

Its wheels hugging the rails.

No slowing down through crossings,

Don't let those boom-gates fail.

It pulls into the station,

Freight to collect and drop.

Air brakes restrict its progress,

Slowly screeching to a stop.

Many different carriages

For livestock, fuel, and goods,

Rushing by the landscape,

Through city, desert, woods.

The Driver and the Fireman

Guide the charging beast,

Steady eyes fixed straight ahead,

Controlling speed at least.


Some foolish individuals

May try to race the devil,

Not stopping for red flashing lights

At crossings known as "level."

They play a game of chicken

With rampaging tonnes of steel,

Putting lives at danger

Scant minutes for to steal.

The driver honks a warning

As he sees danger ahead.

The brakes scream as they skid on rail,

But freight trains can't stop dead.

Their pick up truck could beat the train,

So thought the likely lads,

But engines can stall now and then

And timing's often bad.


A crash of steel assails the ears,

The engineer stares cold,

As like some origami crane

The car crumples in folds.

To risk your life in games of chance,

Will ultimately fail,

Especially tag team with a train,

It's all just off the rails.

© 2019 John Hansen


John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on March 10, 2019:

Thank you Li-Jen. I am glad I successfully portryayed the train and it’s environment and the safety message was clear. Yes, I do try to be as diverse as possible and cover as many different topics as I can. Have a great week.

Li-Jen Hew on March 10, 2019:

Hey Jodah, I like trains. Your poem nicely describes the fascinating mechanism of the train and the environment. It's like I am at the train station. You still conclude on safety, which is a good thing. I like that you cover various poem topics especially the Off the Shelf series. Thanks for sharing.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on March 07, 2019:

Thank you so much, Lawrence. My father had a friend who travelled all over Australia taking videos of different trains he loved them so much.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on March 07, 2019:


I have a series of cassette tapes my great uncle recorded about his life story. He worked fifty years on the railways and hearing him tell the story is fascinating.

I really enjoyed the vivid picture this poem gives.


John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on February 27, 2019:

Thanks, Liam. Yes, the train metaphor is a useful one. There are always lessons to learn...some the hard way.

Fin from Barstow on February 27, 2019:

Interesting how the train metaphor works...and I guess how much the railroad has in common with australia and the United States.

Good strong images and nice way of talking about life.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on February 24, 2019:

Hi Genna. I am glad you enjoyed this. Hopefully I can use my past experience on the rails to write more about it. Yes, trains are fascinating aren’t they?

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on February 24, 2019:

Thanks to Eric for suggesting that you write a poem about your life in "the rails" I've always been fascinated by trains . So many stories abound in their history -- the night trains, the arrivals and departures of lives, the scenes that stream by windows, and so much more. You've brought some of it to life in your wonderful poem.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on February 17, 2019:

Alyssa, thank you for sharing the memories about your grandfather, train rides, and the model train city in his attic. What wonderful childhood memories. You have certain smells associated with your grandfather, as do I, but in my case it was kerosene lantern smell.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on February 17, 2019:

Thank you for sharing that MsDora. Trains always hold a fascination for young and old alike. Unfortunately, that often invites risk-taking. I have seen other tragic events involving school children and mainly the older wooden trains but I won't share that here. Glad to know the accidents seem to have stopped with the collapse of the sugar industry.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on February 17, 2019:

Thank you for taking the time to read this poem, Yvonne. I wish I had put the train in a more romantic light and not had such a tragic ending. Hopefully, I can do that in another article/poem. unfortunately, it is the tragedies that stick in your mind.

Alyssa from Ohio on February 17, 2019:

Another wonderful poem! This brings back fond childhood memories. My grandfather worked on the railroad for years after the war and had retired by the time I was born. He used to take me to the train museum all the time. When I was 9 took us up to a town in Michigan, Blissfield, for a train ride. My uncle transformed their attic into a model train city. I spent a good portion of my childhood up there, watching the trains speed around the track. I can still smell the cigarette smoke mixed with acrylic and enamel. Takes me back! :)

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on February 17, 2019:

During my childhood, a few youngsters lost their legs, trying to hop between train cars carrying sugar cane. Every year at the start of the season, there would be radio announcements warning villagers not to increase the number of victims, but some could not avoid the fun of pulling sugar cane from the cars. The sugar industry has collapsed and now tourists ride new trains on the old railway. No accidents lately.

Yvonne Teo from Singapore on February 17, 2019:

I like this but didn't expect the ending. I always think of the trains in a more romantic way and is something I miss having in my country; the many stories of people and goods it carries as it whizzed by. Perhaps you seen enough tragic events to end it like that. May you never witness another.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on February 16, 2019:

Haha Eric, you can read my work as often and as many times as you want. Yes, that is probably readaholic. I like to be reading when I fall asleep too. It is a pity this one didn’t have a more positive ending, but I guess if people heed the message it can have more positive outcomes. Cheers my friend.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on February 16, 2019:

John is there a term for a serial/cereal reader? Readaholic maybe? I am not stalking you. Some writing work I like to read over and over again.

When they blew that whistle I fell asleep with the old 9ner a-clocker like a child -- well I am one.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on February 16, 2019:

Thank for reading Liz. Yes, children are always attracted to trains and railway lines for some reason. Apart from playing chicken as in this poem, children have also been caught placing objects on the tracks, being too close to the electric power lines, throwing rocks at trains etc, and crossing the tracks in dangerous places instead of using overhead bridges etc.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on February 16, 2019:

Lora, thank you for sharing that tragic story. Unfortunately, it is not an isolated event. Some people are just in a hurry or not observant enough. Like you I have always been fascinated with trains but also have a deep respect for their power.

I experienced a few tragic events while working for the railways but most aren't suitable for sharing here. Thank you for reading and for the kind comment.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on February 16, 2019:

Yes, I joined the railways when I first left school, Linda. For each tragedy such as the one described in my poem, there are probably ten close calls. Some are not deliberately racing the train but just impatient of not observant.

Liz Westwood from UK on February 15, 2019:

We have similar tragic incidents in the UK. Transport police often run campaigns near the school holidays, highlighting the dangers of playing on or near railway lines. Sadly, tragic accidents occur with children losing their lives.

Lora Hollings on February 15, 2019:

An excellent and highly engaging but tragic poem John! Even though, I never have seen a car and a train collide, I remember a family in the town that I grew up in, who in this case, wasn’t trying to play a game of outrunning the train, but the mother who was the driver was in such a hurry that she didn’t wait for the flashing lights to completely stop and not seeing another train coming, went ahead and tried to cross! It was one of the worst accidents that first responders had seen with three people, the mother and two children killed, and another child seriously injured. I will never forget that family’s name and the name of that girl who went to school with me! I always think about it whenever I’m at a train crossing. I’ve always been fascinated with trains but also have a little fear of them, too, with their mighty strength and speed! Your warning to people not to take a chance with tons of steel who cannot possibly stop in such a short amount of time is certainly one that I hope everyone will heed.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on February 15, 2019:

I didn't know that you once worked on railways. This is an interesting poem, John. The ending is sad, but unfortunately accidents like the one that you describe do happen.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on February 15, 2019:

Thank you for reading, Liz. There aren't always happy ending, unfortunately.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on February 15, 2019:

Hi Shauna, it all seems like a long time ago since I worked on the railway, but it is a part of my life I need to resurrect in my writing I guess. No, I haven't really written a story or prose about it but I may have to consider that. Those statistics could be rather gruesome...I think they would mainly have recorded fatalities and not those who got away with it.

Liz Westwood from UK on February 15, 2019:

This is a graphic poem with a twist at the end.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on February 15, 2019:

John, I was unaware of your train history. I'd love to hear about it. Have you written about your experiences in prose or story form?

I'll never understand why people play chicken with a locomotive. I wonder what the statistics are for wins versus deaths?

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on February 14, 2019:

Thank you PoetikalyAnointed. It is a fascinating industry to work in and has it's good and bad. I am glad the ending was unexpected but real too.

PoetikalyAnointed on February 14, 2019:

Wow, food for thought that can be applied elsewhere too.

It's nice to learn a tidbit about your past life. I've been on plane, bus but not train. I would find it all kinds of cool to be a part of that industry. TV shows like I Love Lucy or Movies that features trains have always fascinated me.

The end of your poem was unexpected but it's real. Too many lives have been lost this way.

Thanks for sharing.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on February 13, 2019:

Oh, Sean. What can I say? Your words are quite humbling. Who knows brother, maybe we will meet someday. Blessings to you.

Ioannis Arvanitis from Greece, Almyros on February 13, 2019:

Oh! My dear brother John! I love and admire your talent in making a beautiful poem with many 'layers' out of everything! You are an exceptional man! I wish I could meet you someday.

God bless your talented Heart!


John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on February 13, 2019:

Pamela, as I child my favourite adventure was catching a train at my small town and travelling to the city for the day. The ticketing red wooden carriages captured my imagination. I am glad my poem brought back memories for you too.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on February 13, 2019:

Mel, I could maybe write 44 more but they may not all be exciting, and the ones that are may be too gruesome to portray here. I am sure your uncle knows only too well.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on February 13, 2019:

Linda, as with most of my poetry there is a hidden or deeper meaning. Of course, you got my message. Blessings.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on February 13, 2019:

Hi Rinita, thanks for reading. I am sorry for the sad ending here and will try to make my next few works more uplifting. I always appreciate your feedback.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on February 13, 2019:

People always seem to have a fascination with trains and the railroad, Diana, and there are usually a family member or two who worked on the lines. Thanks for reading.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on February 13, 2019:

Thank you Clive. I appreciate you reading this.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on February 13, 2019:

Verlie, I appreciate your kind comment. Sorry if this touches on something a little too close to home for you. After writing this I realised I had a couple of other poems with railroad references but that were not specifically about that subject. From the comments, however, I think I will write more.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on February 13, 2019:

Thanks for reading Peggy, and sharing about your dad’s trainset. Most children, and many adults, seem fixated with trains in one way or another, but caution is needed when dealing with the real thing. It is a shame you couldn’t take the trainset with you when you moved to Texas.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on February 13, 2019:

We all seem to have at least that “one” relative who worked on the railways, don’t we Eric? Those are some famous rail lines. What you mean “funny English” lol? You Americans speak “funny” English. We Aussies speak “Strayan.” Haha.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on February 13, 2019:

Thanks for reading Gabe. Yes, trains are pretty amazing.

John Hansen (author) from Queensland Australia on February 13, 2019:

I always wanted one too Bill, but was never fortunate. Maybe that’s why I went to work for the railways. Glad you enjoyed this.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 13, 2019:

This is a very well written poem about trains. They certainly are dangerous and young men especially think they are invincible. It is sad when these tragedies happen.

I really had a fascination with trains when I was young especially. My mother told me when I was small and we were in the car heard a train I had a fit until they would drive to it and let me watch. When I was about 12 years old I rode by myself from Cleveland, Ohio to Cincinnati to visit my aunt and uncle. I loved it! Your poem brought back good memories today.

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on February 13, 2019:

Like Eric says you owe us 44 more. I have an Uncle that works for the Santa Fe. He doesn't talk about his work but he has a cold, mean gleam in his eye that I think many an unfortunate hobo has seen before going off the rails. Great work friend.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on February 13, 2019:

John is this only about trains, or is there a hidden message here. Careless thought, uncalculated risk-taking, additions, selfish actions that threaten our jobs, relationships, and our lives?

Rinita Sen on February 13, 2019:

Oh, no. Trains are just so romantic, but the poem is sad. Although extremely well done with your signature style, might I request you to write another one in future with happier tunes?

Diana L Pierce from Potter County, Pa. on February 13, 2019:

Very nice. My grandfather Madison’s family worked the railway in the early 1900s. Wish I knew more about it.

Clive Williams from Jamaica on February 13, 2019:

nice and dramatic.

Verlie Burroughs from Canada on February 13, 2019:

John your train poem has a unique perspective, full of warning signals for those who venture too close to the line... It touches me personally for reasons I won't go into just now. It is exciting to see you writing about your time with the railroad, I can see the potential for a lot more where this comes from.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 13, 2019:

This is well written and should definitely be a caution to those who think that they can cross those rails with a moving train in view.

As to Bill's comment, my dad had a model train that filled the top of a ping pong table that we had in our basement in Wisconsin when I was a child. He would put it up during the Christmas season each year. It was fun to watch when it was in motion. Sadly, it did not get moved to Texas with us.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on February 13, 2019:

My home town had the great Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe line. So we saw a movie got good and sauced and "hopped" it more than once. For a bit during the depression my Grandpa Jack "carpentered" cars out of Chicago.

Gabe and I had fun with your funny English -- You people talk strange down under ;-)

All I can say here is give us more!!!!

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on February 13, 2019:

Thankyou uncle John for your train poem. I like trains too! Gabe.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 13, 2019:

One of my regrets. I always wanted a model train display, big enough to take up an entire room. My way of saying I loved this poetry.

Related Articles