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Spirits of the Railroads

by Scott Corrales

Common knowledge, coupled, with the sage advice of our elders, has led us to rest secure in the

knowledge that "there is no such thing as a ghost," and that it is childish for an adult to


in-much less write about-them.

But millions of people around the world have seen the shades of the departed, both human and

animal, and no society on the planet has a dearth of lore on the subject of dealing with ghosts

when they appear to us: how do we appease them, how do we banish them (if necessary) or

simply, how do we honor the dead and assure their peace?

In the industrial world, it is not uncommon to learn of cases in which the living have

encountered ghostly images. These include nonliving things, such as ethereal houses,

automobiles, and in some rare instances, entire ghost villages which, like Brigadoon, are not

there the following morning. Therefore, the case involving a phantom locomotive should not

cause us to raise our eyebrows. Or should it?

After the completion of the coast to coast railway system at the end of the 19th century, the

United States boasted one of the busiest rail systems in the world. Enormous trains

like the Mikado hauled vast numbers of coal cars to feed the industrial appetite of the budding

world superpower Pittsburgh, in particular, needed coal to fuel the blast furnaces of its


steel, glass, and iron works, and was serviced by a number of crisscrossing railways.

Phantom locomotive

The building of the interstate highway network, the decline of commerce by rail, and the advent

of the postmodern era led to the obsolescence and eventual abandonment of the railways and of

the tunnels that were blasted through the heart of the Appalachians.

One such train track ran through tunnels south of Pittsburgh, near the city of Canonsburg. It

retains a ghostly memory of its heyday, as two young Pennsylvanians were able to discover for


While driving along the back roads running off Donaldson Rd., they came upon long abandoned

rails, rusted and interspersed with weeds. A pair of tunnels farther down the line caught their

attention-particularly the fact that one of the tubes was barricaded by a gate that swung aside


they approached, as if beckoning to them.

Discretion prevailing over valor, they chose to forgo the dubious distinction of venturing into

the darkened tunnel's nether reality. They decided to return during the day, only to discover,


the best horror-film fashion, that the gates were no longer there-in their place now stood a

wall of old bricks, the work of earlier decades, judging from their poor condition. This

disconcerted the youths even further.

Unable to ignore the site's enigmatic attraction, they returned to the tunnels one night during a

full moon in May 1993. Any plans they may have entertained about exploring the abandoned tunnels were thwarted by the sudden

appearance of a phantom locomotive, pearly white in color and almost solid, which caused them

to lose their resolve and run away.

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