But such was the case at a Sri Lanka rail yard recently when a staff member misplaced his train. His colleagues said they hadn’t seen it. So he called his bosses.
Horrified, bosses ordered staff to phone everyone they could think of to ask possibly the most embarrassing question a railroad worker ever had to ask.
“Er, I’m calling from Sri Lanka Railways. Just wondering if anybody has seen a train? It’s a big, heavy metal thing with lots of wheels.”
The humiliating calls eventually paid off, I hear from a Colombo resident who tipped me off about the news.
An unscheduled “ghost train” had been spotted heading for the city centre, 12 km away.
Leaping into a fast vehicle, staff members managed to catch up, and then pounced on board to halt it.
I know what you’re thinking. Didn’t you just see this in a Hollywood movie?
Yes, this is the exact plot of Unstoppable, the only difference being that in real life there was no incidental music and the heroes did not get hugged by gorgeous female movie stars when they climbed off the train.
Or maybe they did. You never know in Sri Lanka.
But here’s where it gets interesting. You’d have thought that the brakes had been left off, right?
But technicians said no, the engine had been switched on, indicating that the ghost train had had a ghost driver.
Then reporters found a 1913 newspaper clipping about a ghost train mysteriously leaving the same station, on the same track 100 years earlier on the same day, at the same time.
As a result, the most believable theory now is that a ghost train driver visits that particular line and steals a train once a century on a particular day.
This is so convincing that I’ll bet on it, and if I’m wrong, I’ll pay you CASH. (Just come and see me in 100 years' time with full documentation.)
The same week, there was a viral video going around about a driverless car speeding along a highway in the US state of Utah. It went miles without crashing. A CNN report noted that the “ghost” car “drove better than most Utah drivers”.
I remember some years ago reporting about a ghost train going by itself on a 45 kilometer journey starting in Bogor, Indonesia.
The empty drivers’ cabin was locked from the inside.
At the time, railway officials sneered at the “ghost train driver” theory as ridiculous superstition, preferring the theory that a Hindu god had materialized, gone for a drive, and then dematerialized.
Much more scientific, one has to agree.
Personally I don’t believe in ghosts, preferring the theory that “dumb” objects, such as trains, rocks and members of nationalist political parties, occasional manifest signs that make them look like thinking, breathing sentient beings.
But of course they don’t really have any sort of innate intelligence.
Well, some of the rocks, maybe.
Happy New Year.