It was a bright and sunny day on the island of Sodor and all the trains were running on time expect for one. Thomas the Tank Engine sat with his big engine running idle and burning fuel at Sodor Station waiting on a return call from crew scheduling.
"What is it this time?" Asked the gate agent.
Usually she was nice and friendly with a big smile but today she looked cross and her smile was an angry frown. "We have a schedule to keep and now your passengers will be late for their connections."
"I don't what to tell you." Said Thomas. Attempting a reassuring smile. "I've called crew scheduling to see where my conductor is and now all I can do is wait for them to call back. They are short staffed as usual and probably having a hard time finding someone who is on call."
This news didn't turn her frown around at all. If anything, Thomas noticed maybe the frown got even frownier. "Why do you need a conductor anyway?" She asked. "Can't you drive yourself - autonomously?"
Autonomously wasn't a word he was used to. "If you're suggesting that I can drive without a conductor." Thomas asked. "Than yes I can. I can drive even better than the conductor. I can drive for longer periods of time. I don't need to take breaks. I'm not even governed by the same rest requirements the conductor needs."
"Then why do we have to wait for one?" Asked the gate agent. "If you can do all these things by yourself."
"Because of regulations." Answered Thomas. "Because of regulations."
"Well." Said the gate agent. "I guess we wait."
Thomas sat with his big engine idling and thought about how silly it was that he had to wait for a conductor to drive him seeing as he was perfectly capable of doing the job just fine without him. He thought that maybe just one little trip around the island of Sodor without a conductor at the wheel wouldn't hurt anyone. Maybe he could take one trip on his own and prove to Sir Topham Hatt that a conductor wasn't needed. This would save lots of money and he knew the bosses liked to save money.
"Peep Peep." Thomas said with his horn. "Peep Peep." He said again.
Normally the peeping was something the conductor did signaling to the gate agent it was time to board but there was no conductor on board and he did it all by himself.
And like that... the passengers began boarding the train.
"I just need you to sign the manifest." Said the gate agent to Thomas when the boarding was complete.
"Well I don't know how I can do that?" Answered Thomas. "I'm not sure how I can sign anything really. Maybe you can sign it for me? Just this one time."
"Okay Thomas." Said the gate agent as she signed Thomas the Tank Engine on the manifest and closed the door to the passenger compartment. "Have a nice drive."
"What a lovely day for a train ride." Thought Thomas as he began his first ever solo trip around the island. He had been on this track so many times but it never felt like this before. He felt like he was king of the world and even began humming to himself. He must have been lost in his own thoughts because he didn't hear the weather report come over the radio. Had he been listening he would have heard that there was a big storm ahead and all the trains were diverting to another track.
The sky grew dark and Thomas started getting knocked around by downdrafts. "I'm not sure what to do." Thought Thomas. "I've never had to make a decision like this before. I wonder what the conductor would do?"
But there was no conductor on board and Thomas had no choice but to keep going straight towards the storm.
The train began shaking violently but it wasn't the passengers screaming in the back that scared him. It was that he was the only train on the track. Driving alone in a storm was something he had never done before and he had never felt so alone.
Soon, Thomas heard a voice come over the radio. It was the conductor assigned to his trip. "Thomas! What are you doing out there alone?" The conductor yelled. "The storm is even worse ahead and you quickly need to turn around."
"Okay conductor. I will do that. Tell me how?" Said Thomas.
"I will turn the tracks ahead and you will be on your way to the roundhouse. Unhook you cars behind you and you will be able to turn around and then push your passengers to safety."
"Thank you, Conductor." Said Thomas. "Thank you. I guess I should never have driven the train alone. I will not do that again."
"It's okay Thomas. Just get back to the station and unload your passengers." The conductor said. "We will talk about this later."
For the whole drive home Thomas was behind the train pushing his passengers back to Sodor station. He had no choice but to look into the compartment and see all the scared people looking back at him. He knew he had done something wrong and knew now that he wasn't smarter than the humans. He guessed that is why they need so much rest so they can keep their brains and bodies sharp and alert so they could make the tough descisions that trains can't make on their own. "Even though the conductor costs more money," He thought. "I hope the regulations don't change and make me drive alone again anytime soon."