If you live in the UK and find yourself aboard an empty train, travelling from nowhere to nowhere at all, there's a good chance you're aboard one of its infamous ghost trains.
They run from station to station, almost unacknowledged by National Rail. Often there are no ticket machines, or ticket sellers that recognize the line. "You must be mistaken," say the people behind the service desk. "There's no such route." Except there is.
These trains exist because, in modern Britain, it's much more sensible to keep a train line active than to close it altogether, even if in order to do so you run only one train, every so often, without passengers. Nobody knows how many of these trains there are, not even the people paid to run the railways. "The department doesn’t hold a definitive list of these low-frequency routes," says Andrew Scott, one of the Department of Transport’s press officers. "We don’t use the terminology of ghost train – there’s no formally agreed definition of what would constitute one."
Sometimes called Parliamentary Trains, these passenger trains exist because it's far too expensive and cumbersome to shut the line down. First there'd have to be a transport appraisal, then a notice in the press, then a consultation period in which any member of the public can object, public meetings, more submissions … Much simpler, really, just to run a train down the line every so often and call it quits. Particularly if there's even a remote chance you might want to use the line again.
It used to be much easier to cut networks, and in the 1960s an axe went through National Rail, under the direction of Richard Beeching. However as objections grew to this drastic slimming of the lines, more and more roadblocks were put on the process, and by the 1970s it became prohibitively difficult to close a rail line. Which leads to the situation we have now, where trains run to no useful purpose. It's sometimes called closure by stealth, where the railway runs a line into the ground and then uses its lack of use as a reason for closing it permanently.
The term Parliamentary Train is Victorian, and originally referred to cheap trains that ran on less popular routes. The idea was, train travel benefited everyone, but not everyone could afford it, and some routes were useful but uneconomical to run. By Act of Parliament it was decreed that cheap trains between less popular destinations be built, allowing everyone no matter their bank balance to ride the rails. These were among the first to go when Beeching swung his axe, since these lines were uneconomical to run from the moment they were built - which was the whole reason for building them in the first place.
If you want to know more, head over here. The folks at Parliamentary Ghost Stations have tracked down these remnants of former glory so you don't have to.
Now we've talked about the real thing, let's talk scenarios.
What we've got: trains that run from station to station without any people on board, bar a few enthusiasts. They run at peculiar times of day and usually aren't announced, or even recognized, at the stations they service. So far as I can determine they don't run at night, though it would be fun if they did. There are some that run fairly late in the day - at 4pm, say - but not after dark. They appear all over the country, some even servicing London stations, where you'd think there'd be demand for almost any increase in public transportation.
Now for the Dracula Dossier:
Human Terrain/High Society: There's an unexpectedly high volume of chatter in the Department for Transport about the summary sacking of several Network Rail personnel. Normally this would get the unions in an uproar, but for once they're being quiet as mice. There's talk of improper use of government funds, but that's just a smokescreen. There was supposed to be a DfT inquiry, but the person meant to lead it got kicked upstairs and the inquiry's on what looks like permanent hold. The MP of the constituency affected was interested, but she died suddenly and her district's embroiled in a messy by-election. Whatever went wrong, the talk is all about something called a Black Train -whatever that may be.
Bureaucracy: The sacking of three Network Rail personnel has caused headaches for the stations affected. It was the manager of one of those stations that raised the initial complaint - something about homeless living on board one of the trains. However since the original complaint escalated rather messily, the station manager's fighting for his job, and by all accounts he's losing.
Occult: There's long been talk of some kind of Black Train, delivering victims to their final destination, and it's rumored that the whole thing is part of a Conspiracy scheme to keep vampires well supplied with victims. Nobody knows how it's supposed to work, or who's involved, but Dracula's Satanic Cult is meant to be behind it.
The Awful Truth
Back in the 1960s the defunct connection that became the Black Train was a rural line running from a major station out into the countryside, built originally in the 1870s at the request - whim, really - of a landed aristocrat who wanted a train line running close to his estate. That aristocrat's family later fell in with the Satanic Cult, and was enthusiastically involved in human sacrifice and hideous ritual magic. The train became their means of delivering necessary supplies, cult members and ritual sacrifices to the estate. However this all came to an end shortly after Dracula's departure from England, when the embryonic Edom rolled-up some of Dracula's weaker allies. Edom was helped by a suspicious fire that gutted the aristocrat's estate, killing the immediate family and leaving the remaining assets in the hands of distant cousins. What happens next depends on whether the line was left alone, run by Edom, or is still part of the Conspiracy.
Left alone: the scandalized cousins did their best to avoid public humiliation, and largely succeeded. Apart from some very unpleasant stories finding their way into local folklore and history books, the whole thing was hushed up. Most of the land was sold, except for the portion with the burnt-out ruins of the manor house. Nobody's ever tried to do anything with it, but it has become a magnet for some very peculiar people. The Madman (p121, DD) is one such, who keeps riding the rails regularly and howling at the manor when the train passes by. That was what got the station manager involved, but what he, and the DfT, didn't know is that there's a cobwebbed Edom directive which specifies anyone showing interest in that train line be forcibly discouraged. Edom being a traditionalist institution, nobody thought to ask why several people's lives had to be ruined to keep a train line out of the news.
Edom Involvement: As above, except the land was bought from the cousins by Edom. At the time it was just to keep it out of the hands of the remnants of the Cult, but thanks to its ritual associations the ride past the manor does very peculiar things to Renfields, and the effect seems to vary from subject to subject. So rather than shut it down, Edom decided to use it as a mobile enhanced interrogation suite. The 1960s Beeching Axe was a tremendous benefit for Edom, who got exclusive access to a now empty train. It got a lot of use in the 1970s, less in the 1980s, and by the 1990s the Black Line was pretty much obsolete. However it recently saw use again, and the rather messy result got the attention of the station manager. Now Edom's fighting a rearguard action to keep their dirty laundry out of the public eye.
Conspiracy Involvement: As above, except the land was bought by Conspiracy cutouts. Nothing was done with it until the 1970s, when the manor house and grounds were opened up to ritual use again. It saw off-again, on-again use through the 1980s, and in the 1990s a senior figure within the Satanic Cult adopted it as her favored ritual site. However a recent scandal involving [insert useful character here, perhaps the Madman or the Silent Servants] got more attention than the Satanic Cult likes, and now it's trying to cover its tracks.