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 ever. "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. 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 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 train driver. Then reporters found a 1913 newspaper 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. 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. Cops eventually worked out that a motorist in a car crash had left his seat, thinking the car was going to blow up, but it merely proceeded on its merry way for several miles. 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 kilometre 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 usually don't believe in ghosts, preferring the theory that "dumb" inanimate objects, such as trains, rocks and members of nationalist political parties occasionally manifest signs that make other people mistake them for thinking, breathing, sentient beings. But of course they don't really have any sort of innate intelligence.
Well, some of the rocks, maybe.
(27-12-2013-Nury Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveler. Send ideas and comments via www.mrjam.org)
--IANS (Posted on 27-12-2013)