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Great Britain's Ghost Trains

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.

In the 1860's a writer called I.D. Fenton toured Wales, England, and collected local legends and many appeared in the British illustrated literary newspaper Once A Week. One of the more extraordinary tales, which was widely reprinted in regular newspapers, concerns a spectral train from some years in the future. This legend appeared in his long article called 'Beyond Gower's Land', and the excerpt reads:

“As a people, the Welsh are much given to superstition, and many are pointed out said to be endowed with the power of prophecy, or 'second sight'. One instance, which occurred not many years ago in the neighbourhood, is firmly believed in. A farmer and his friend had been enjoying a day's fishing on the Tav, an excellent trouting stream that runs past the old Abbey of Whitland. As evening drew on, the sport grew slack, and at last the trout gave up taking at all, so the sportsmen put up their tackle, said 'Good night', and departed on their several roads homeward. The farmer, however, liked a pipe, and was stopping with the intention of lighting his when he became conscious of an indescribable sensation; the air seemed full of sound, and yet was perfectly silent. As he stood perplexed, not to say alarmed, strange noises began to issue from the ground, the hill trembled beneath his feet, his pipe dropped from his hand, and he was on the point of running away, when a long whistling shriek, accompanied by the sound of a thousand wheels, burst from the hill-side close beside him: a number of horses feeding close by pricked up their ears and galloped wildly down the hill, jumping right into the bed of the Tav, where they stood panting and frightened until the strange sound died away in the distance.

“The farmer did not stay to pick up his pipe, but hurried home brimful of the wonderful event, and under considerable apprehension that some calamity was going to happen to him or his family.

“Some time afterwards the line of the South Wales Railway was surveyed and a tunnel at last completed, the mouth of which opened at the very spot from whence what was now explained as a spectral train had issued, and upon opening day the farmer and a crowd of country folk were upon the spot to witness the effect, which certainly exactly answered the description by him, even to the horses galloping into the Tav."

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.

This ghost train was recorded by the folklorist J C Davies, who got it first-hand from the witness, 'an old man named James'. Here I repeat the story verbatim from his book 'Folklore of West and Mid Wales', which was published in 1911:

'Some years ago when he [James] happened to be out about midnight once, he saw a train passing, which came from the direction of Carmarthen, and went towards Llandilo, and as no train was to pass through the station of Nantgaredig at that hour, he enquired of the Stationmaster next morning what was the special train that passed at midnight. In reply he was told he had been either dreaming or had seen the spirit of a train, as no train had passed at that time of night.

'A few days after this a special train passed through the station conveying a large funeral from Carmarthen to Llandilo; and James and his friend were convinced that the train he had seen in the night was nothing but an apparition of the real train with the funeral!'

James's belief was that the ghost train had taken the form of a - for then - hi-tech version of the phantom funerals that commonly reported as shuffling through Welsh lanes at twilight to warn of real funerals to come.


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