Off The Rails

A ghost-train driver’s job is not an exciting one.

He gets in to the front of what is essentially a dodgem-car daisy-chain, and waits while children climb into the cars behind him. He sighs and picks candy-floss off the back of his head, then he pushes the start button. The train moves forward at the speed of an ice-age, though a black curtain, and into a tunnel. 

What follows makes golf seem exciting. Lights flash. A skeleton drops and jiggles. The train passes through cob-webs, some man-made, increasingly over time some not. There are loud shrieks, though not from the children who, having grown up with Call of Duty 7, are made of sterner stuff. The shrieks come from rusting old wheels rolling over rusting old rails. The journey ends with one last dive-by by a cloth bat, then a lurch out through another curtain into comparative sunlight and a collective sigh of soul-deadening disappointment.

A ghost-train driver’s job is not an exciting one.

A ghost train-driver’s job, though, is different. A ghost train-driver starts his train with a loud , scalding blast of steam, for such a driver will not be driving the Dart, or the Rosslare Eurostar. His train will have a furnace, into which a demon boiler-man will hurl shovelful after shovelful of coal. It will have pistons to drag its wheels into motion. It will have a whistle that emits a long, piercing scream, like a bagpipes caught in the zip of its fly.  

The journey of a ghost train-driver is not a lonely one. He has a rich collection of companions – spurned lovers who hurled themselves from dining-carriages, distressed damsels who had been tied to the rails by moustachioed villains, careless country ramblers who had caught the 4.15 from Limerick Junction in the small of the back.

Together they travel the country on a final journey, shrieking through long-abandoned stations, speeding inches above long-rusted railway lines, vanishing into long-bricked-up tunnels, crossing narrow wooden bridges over narrow deep ravines until they reach one where they don’t, because the bridge is down, and train roars into the abyss, wheels still spinning furiously like Wile E Coyote trying to run in mid-air. 

The following night the ghost train-driver gets to do it again. It is thrilling, spirit-lifting, exhilarating. It fills his senses, stirs his heart, makes him feel truly alive.

It’s the best job on earth, or at least slightly beyond it.  

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