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23 October, 2007

Ghost trains of Great Britain

People commonly think of ghosts and apparitions manifesting in human form. However, it seems there is also a global phenomenon of ghostly transportation. Ghostly horse riders, horse-drawn carriages, ships, road vehicles, aircraft and trains have been reported across the world. The United Kingdom has a long history of ghostly transport, from World War II bombers which suddenly materialize and disappear, to ghost ships. But the UK has witnessed a disproportionately large number of railway ghosts and phantoms, given its relatively small land mass. What lies behind these inexplicable sightings?

Starting off with my native land of Wales, the ghostly apparition of a train was spotted darting along the Talyllyn Railway towards the Dolgoch Viaduct, near Tywyn in North Wales. Some climbers witnessed the locomotive's black form speeding along at midnight. The Talyllyn Railway is not a regular, commercial railway, but a historic, narrow-gauge railway, popular with tourists and day trippers. Therefore, there are no late night trains. Nevertheless, many locals have heard whistles, and seen lights speeding along the track late at night, many hours after the railway has shut down for the evening.

Dolgoch station - © Danny McL - Creative Commons

Hannah emailed the BBC's Mid Wales Weird site, with an account of a ghostly railway experience she had during a school trip took to Talybont-on-Usk in Powys. Although she doesn't specify it in her message, it's apparent that Hannah stayed at the Outdoor Education Centre, which was previously the old Talybont station. She said: "It was a cold winter night and we were on a school trip to Talybont for the weekend. We were sleeping in dorm 4 - no-one was sleeping in dorm 5. Me and my friend Lucy went into dorm 5 and we were sure we heard train noises and screaming, but no one else heard it. We asked the teacher what had been there before it became what it is now, and he said it had been a train station, which we thought was weird."

Interestingly, it is believed that a fatal rail crash occurred on the line near to the old Talybont station, sometime in the nineteenth century. According to a Michael Young, in a message left on the BBC's Talybont-on-Usk page, there is a news clipping hanging in the dining room of the old station, documenting the disaster. Did Hannah witness the Talybont ghost train, or did she read the clipping and imagine the whole thing?

Skipping across the border from Wales, to the south west of England, more ghostly train apparitions haunt the tracks. The sounds of a phantom locomotive are said to echo along the tracks in a tunnel at Box, Wiltshire. Woodchester Mansion, near Stroud, in Gloucestershire, was also visited by a ghost train, in 2001. Although no train was seen, a film crew who spent a night at the building heard thunderous, disembodied banging sounds, which came to a head as the unmistakable sounds of a stream train ploughed straight through the old house.

Woodchester Mansion - © Skinnyde - Creative Commons

No train has run through the pleasant valley near Washford in Somerset, since the early twentieth century. In fact, a pleasant footpath now follows the precise route of the old railway track. But there are frequent reports from people who hear steam whistles and the unmistakable chuffing noise of an old locomotive. The tracks have also been removed at a spot near the old railway station at Launceston in Cornwall. Yet numerous people have heard the phantom passage of a long goods train through the area.

The London area also has a few ghost trains. In 1980, a diesel-powered engine called 'Nimbus' was cut up for scrap metal. However, it has been spotted several times since, running along the tracks at the south tunnel of Hadley Wood station.

Hadley Wood - © Cridders - Creative Commons

A stretch of the Northern Line, which is part of the famous London Underground, is reputed to be haunted by a spectral steam engine, between East Finchley station and Wellington Sidings. During the Second World War, building work commenced on Highgate High Level Station, but the station was never completed. Nevertheless, locals occasionally report hearing a steam train in the area where the track was supposed to have been laid.

Moving north of London, Soham in Cambridgeshire is said to play host to a macabre annual apparition. Every June 2nd, a grisly reenactment is said to occur near the station, whereby an old war-time ammunitions train is heard to explode. Two fatalities occurred during the original accident on June 2nd, 1944, shattering every window in Soham and totally demolishing the old station. When the tracks were rebuilt, they did not pass the scene of the accident. Further east, the 19:45 King's Lynn train crashed in August 1863, killing six people on board. Since the accident, between Hunstanton and King's Lynn in Norfolk, sightings of a phantom locomotive have been reported several times in the area. The sightings continued even after the line fell into disuse in the 1960's. However, there have been no reports since the 1970's.

Nuneaton in Warwickshire played host to an especially grisly apparition, in October 1986. Two people walking near the railway track, in an area known as the Bomb Hills, saw steam emanating from beneath a bridge. As they crossed the bridge, they peered downwards. To their shock, they saw a stationary steam locomotive, with dozens of injured people sprawled across the tracks. Curiously, they described the whole scene as being semi-transparent. They ran off to look for help, but by the time they returned some minutes later, the whole scene had dissipated.

Lincolnshire is home to a couple of ghostly trains. In the 1920's, a rail crash occurred at Ancholme Bridge near Elsham, during foggy weather. Four people lost their lives. Ever since, a ghostly train appears at the accident spot during foggy conditions. The train is said to emit a soft glow. At Hallington, near to where the old station stood, many witnesses have reported hearing the sound of an old steam locomotive passing during the night, even though the track was closed in 1956. At Halsall in Lancashire, a man decided to shoot some video footage at a nature reserve. As he stood on a disused railway bridge, filming, he heard the unmistakable sounds of railway carriages speeding along the disused tracks below. He saw nothing.

Nottinghamshire has its own ghost trains. In 1970, two children played at the southern end of the Mapperley Tunnel, in Nottingham. To their horror, they heard a steam locomotive rapidly bearing down on them. They fled the tunnel in terror. They quickly realized that no such train could exist - the tunnel was barricaded at one end, with a disused track beyond it. Also in Nottingham, many people during the 1960's and 1970's claimed to hear ghostly activity at the disused Thorneywood Station and tunnel. They heard old steam engines chugging and clanking through the station, even though the last train had passed by in 1951. The nearby tunnel was rumoured to be haunted, too. People reported hearing footsteps crunching on gravel inside the tunnel, whereas others reported hearing a train hurtling through it. Further north, at Dalton in Furness in Cumbria, the line between Goldmire Junction and Millwood Junction is said to be haunted.Witnesses report hearing the sudden approach of a train and feeling a blast of wind, as one would if a train had just passed by.

Crossing the border from England to Scotland, uncovers an interesting quartet of ghost train stories. Part of the old Highland Line lies at Dunphail, in Moray. The line fell into disuse many years ago, and the track itself was ripped up and removed. However, a ghostly train is said to haunt the route where the tracks once lay. Although the train's interior lights are always blazing, no-one is seen inside. It has also been seen passing the site where a nearby station once stood. Other witnesses report being blown backwards by a rush of air, as if a train had just shot past them at speed.

Late one night in 1997, a Mr. and Mrs Maddison drove south along the A84 Lochearnhead to Balquhidder road. Suddenly, they heard the whistling and chuffing of a stream locomotive, close to the old station at Balquhidder junction. In the distance, north of their position, they spotted a line of moving lights which looked remarkably like carriages. They subsequently related their experience to Mrs. Maddison’s father. To their amazement, he told them the line was permanently closed by a landslide in 1965.

Balquhidder - © FBoosman - Creative Commons

At the Kyle of Lochalsh, in the Scottish Highlands, locals tell of how the construction of the railway upset the natural balance. As a result, a demonic-looking black locomotive haunts the tracks, spitting out flames as it heads for nearby hills, where it disappears from view.

The most commonly claimed ghost train sightings in Scotland, are alleged to take place on the Tay Rail Bridge, near Dundee. At around 19.15 on December 28th, 1873, the central spans of the recently constructed Tay Bridge collapsed, as a passenger train went across it. The bridge and train plunged into the icy Firth of Tay river below, as a force 11 gale howled all around. None of the 75 people aboard survived, and only 60 bodies were ever recovered. Although the recovered carriages were damaged beyond repair, the engine was salvaged and used again on the line for a few more years. Most of the girders salvaged from the collapsed bridge were incorporated into a replacement bridge, right alongside its remnants.

New Tay Bridge with remains of collapsed bridge alongside
© Ross2085 - Creative Commons

Many witnesses have since reported seeing a brightly-lit phantom train speeding along the Tay Bridge, on the anniversary of the disaster. The ghostly train is said to disappear in the centre of the bridge, as if plunging into the icy water once more.

A ghost train has also been seen across the water, at Killeavy, in Northern Ireland. Many witnesses claim to have spotted a train speeding along the tracks at night, but only from a distance. The train is said to abruptly disappear in the Barney's Bridge area.

So what lies behind these bizarre apparitions? Are hoaxers having a laugh at the expense of others? Perhaps people are genuinely mistaken about what they've seen, felt or heard. Or maybe the UK's railway tracks really are haunted. What do you think?

6 comments:

Anonymous,  4 November 2007 at 21:29  

Another familiar face to the Season of Shadows Carnival is back at Strange Days. Siani continues to present very interesting posts. For this edition Siani’s discussing phantom rail runners in Ghost Trains of Great Britain.

November '07 Paranormal Carnival at SeasonOfShadows.com

TB3 1 August 2009 at 15:51  

I can't shed light on most of these stories, but I can confirm the Talyllyn Ghost Train as a hoax.

Back when the railway was a commerical enterprise, families could rent a waggon for the day which would be attached to the timetabled trains to take them up the line. Leaving it in a siding they could then explore the hills and eventually ride back in the truck after the last train under power of gravity, late in the evening. Dangerous by modern standards (especially since there was no Liability Insurance on these outings), but tremendous fun.

The ghost train story stems from one local who at the time got the idea of reliving this fun for himself - he built himself a trolley and used the help of friends and a Landrover to put the trolley on the line at the level crossing near Abergynolwyn, and then rode it several miles downhill to Brynglas crossing where he'd be collected. People may well have heard him rattling along the line by cover of darkness, maybe lighting his way with a torch, and thus the legend begins.

On the night of the most dramatic 'sighting', the Talyllyn Railway gave permission for a climbing group to abseil down Dolgoch Viaduct, a three-arch structure that stands fifty-feet high over the Dolgoch Ravine. On the same night the joyrider decided to take his trolley out for a spin. The results could have been fatal. The abseilers arrived at Dolgoch and walked along the line to the viaduct, where they tied their ropes to the track and then slung themselves over the parapet - at this point the joyrider shot by, thumping right over their ropes - thankfully none of them broke. However both parties got quite a scare (and since the climbers were already desending the viaduct they didn't get a decent look at what passed them), and the story grew in the telling until the local paper reported the 'Ghost Train'. It's easy to imagine how badly things could have gone were it not for some miraculous timing.

Not long thereafter the legend died - the man responsible gave up his jaunts because of the shock he'd recieved and how close he'd come to possible manslaughter, and eventually blabbed about his exploits one night in a pub and the true story spread round - I heard as much from the landlady of the Dolgoch Falls Hotel and read a matching account in a book on the Talyllyn Railway. Sadly there's no ghost train, but it does make for a gripping story.

That is not to say that there may not be a phantom or two on the line however, as a spectral man has been seen walking in Wharf Cutting, and a ghost dog has been reported in Pendre Yard, all straight from the mouth of a volunteer friend of mine.

R11995 22 April 2011 at 13:47  

Hi Siani,
I've few tales you may like. Not experienced by me, but I'll post them anyway.

Cheers,
Ben in Australia

Anonymous,  28 April 2011 at 06:25  

H Siani,
Here are the Australian ghost train stories I mentioned earlier

http://www.railpage.com.au/f-t11359370-0-asc-s0.htm and

http://www.railpage.com.au/f-p585783.htm

Cheers,
Ben in Australia

Dave,  8 December 2011 at 01:35  

I think i can shed some light on the Washford sighting you mention.

The closed line being referred to is the West Somerset Mineral Railway, which closed when replaced by another Railway which passed through another part of Washford on it's way between Taunton & Minehead, when this line in turn was closed in the 1970's, it was soon taken over as a tourist railway which operates old steam trains to this day, so the sound of old steam trains in the Washford area is very common and it is probably this railway being heard in the distance which accounts for the sound.

John,  28 November 2014 at 21:03  

Somewhat belatedly, the Talybont crash involved a runaway goods train, which got away from its crews at the top of the infamous 'Seven Mile Bank' on the old Brecon and Merthyr Railway, back on the approximately 1880s. At the foot of the bank, where the line curves round towards Talybont station, the leading engine came off the track and the whole lot piled up on the roadway below the bridge. The canalside pub has photos of the wreck.

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