There seemed to be always a tinge of excitement about things that were ghostly, spectral, phantom-like. An air of mystery surrounded phenomena that suggested rational explanation might not be readily available.
A BBC Radio piece on “ghost trains” in 2015 was the sort of item that caught the imagination. These were not fairground rides but infrequent services with empty carriages to deserted railway stations.
It seemed there were ghost train hunters who scoured the timetables for such services. Station staff and ticket collectors might be unable to advise the hunters where and when the ghost trains ran, but enthusiasts would always find out.
There was a sense of disappointment when I discovered that there was nothing of the paranormal in these trains, rather the reason for their existences was rather mundane, as the BBC website explains:
“Ghost trains are there just for a legal placeholder to prevent the line from being closed,” says Bruce Williamson, national spokesperson for the advocacy group RailFuture. Or as Colin Divall, professor of railway studies at the University of York, puts it: “It’s a useless, limited service that’s borderline, and the reason that it’s been kept is there would be a stink if anyone tried to close it.”
Earlier this year, after the English secondary school summer half-term, I encountered “phantom classrooms” for the first time.
After a year of Covid-19 restrictions, a classroom appearing and disappearing like a mirage would not have been a surprise, such was the suspension of the normal rules of reality.
The phantom classrooms were a computer phenomenon rather than an actual one. Members of staff were shown to be timetabled for lessons in phantom classrooms numbered 1 to 6.
An inquiry with a colleague revealed the phenomenon was a device to protect time for certain teachers after the final year students had left. In order to ensure they were not called for cover lessons, of which there were many, it was easier for their former lesson times to remain on the timetable, but they obviously did not need a classroom, so were allocated a phantom one.
To trains and classrooms, on Saturday, I was able to add phantom buses.
The electronic display at the bus stop told me the 123 service through the city centre was in 15 minutes. The minutes counted down until the display said, “Due.”
No bus appeared, but the service disappeared from the board.
I phoned my son, whom I was to meet in O’Connell Street.
“Ah,” he said, “you have encountered one of the phantom buses. The buses all have GPS, so it should not be allowed to happen, Sometimes, though, a service is cancelled but someone forgets to cancel it from the computer system which continues to show the bus’s theoretical journey.”
Phantom buses are not so much fascinating as annoying.