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Afterlife Express

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The train used to run in both directions, but these days it's a one-way ride.

On the road to hell there was a railroad track
And a train coming up from way down below
Better go get your suitcase packed
Guess it's time to go...

A recurring element in Oral Tradition and fiction. A sinister (or at least mysterious) phantom train beholden to no earthly schedule, often times in charge of transporting souls to the afterlife. A vehicular version of The Grim Reaper, then, minus the reaping (though that's not to say that the train that runs over people wouldn't be hilarious). Its conductor—if not the train itself—might play chess, too. The choice of a train is interesting in that trains are a relatively young technology, as mythologies go, but they've fit into this role extremely well. Doubtless the spooky train whistle helps. The mode of conveyance need not be an actual train — in fact, before the invention of trains, it was usually a ship — but it surprisingly often is. Perhaps it's that most people get on trains as passengers, with no control, and that, even for those running the train, travel is restricted to a fixed route, both of which reflect a lack of control for the soul.

This trope has antecedents in both Classical and Celtic Mythology. The Greek pantheon had the god Charon, whose job it was to ferry souls to the underworld in a boat across the River Styx. Ireland, meanwhile, had the cóiste-bodhar, the black coach that came for the souls of the dead.

A sub-trope of The Journey Through Death.

See also Ghost Train, a more spooky, often malicious train that stays on Earth to terrorize the living. Compare with Cool Train, Hellevator, and Stairway to Heaven.

Contrast Flying Dutchman (another spooky means of transportation, but forbidden to go to the afterlife) and Ghost Ship (for normal derelict vessels).

Not related to the TV show Soul Train (though both do involve both gettin' on up and gettin' down).

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • ARIA has the appearance of a ghostly train that appears to transport cats to some sort of afterlife. This is a Shout-Out to Night on the Galactic Railroad.
  • Sister Rosette Christopher in Chrono Crusade finds herself riding on one of these after she dies. Thanks to some words of encouragement from another passenger, she leaps off the moving train before it reaches its destination, causing her to revive in the real world.
  • In Devilman, a train enters a tunnel that is actually a demon, with the conductor corrupted and taunting. Among the devoured casualties is a little girl who was once the only friend Akira Fudo ever had. A Fate Worse Than Death awaits the fallen.
  • Digimon example: In Frontier (Season 4), Takuya found himself confronted by Dark Trailmon, a train Digimon, after getting annihilated in a battle. Dark Trailmon offers him a chance to avoid going to the Digital World, and takes him back in time to when his journey started. But the catch? He's running around the human world as Flamemon. (His wearing a "rookie level" version of his Digimon form is a way around the problem of two Takuyas existing at once.) He eventually decides to allow his journey to take place, and returns to the Digital World. (And the bad guy they were fighting has long since walked away to sort out his lost memories by the time he got back. Oh, well. Next time.)
  • Galaxy Express 999 has an encounter with a train full of ghosts in the vicinity of Filament, a planet that had been suddenly destroyed some time ago leaving the souls of its inhabitants to live on in that area.
  • The episode "Eternity" from The Galaxy Railways features one of these. It comes at midnight every few months to a specific platform; you ride it until you're ready to move on.
  • Gegege No Kitaro: Episode 7 of the 2018 anime features a cruel businessman boarding a mysterious train late at night. Throughout the trip, the man has some supernatural experiences, such as encountering the ghosts of former employees who had killed themselves after being fired. It turns out that the man had been Dead All Along, having been killed by the restless souls of his dead employees, and that the mysterious train he's on is heading towards Hell.
  • Ghost Sweeper Mikami has a ghost train chapter/episode.
  • Giovanni's Island: When Kanta is dying, Junpei imagines him boarding the Galactic Express which takes his little brother up to heaven.
  • At the beginning of Grave of the Fireflies Seita dies in a train station. When the tin containing his sister Setsuko's remains is thrown away, her spirit is released and the spirits of Seita and Setsuko reunite. They then board a lonely train, and watch falling bombs, which segues into the story of how they died with the bombings of Kobe.
  • One season of Gregory Horror Show had a bit of this. One passenger Gregory encountered was the ghost of a man continually re-living his daily commute to work. The kicker? Said man is the first protagonist.
    • And while he wasn't dead yet, a giant chicken was unknowingly traveling to a slaughterhouse for his new "job."
  • Hakaba Kitarō has the titular character put two other characters on a soul train as part of a hallucination.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • A less obvious example in the second outro for Stardust Crusaders: there's a shot of the main cast sitting together in a train compartment, and Joseph is holding three tickets.
    • After Leone Abbachio dies in Golden Wind, there is a scene of him meeting his dead partner and boarding a bus.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion:
    • When he's absorbed into the Dirac Sea, Shinji's mind (we think) conjurs up a phantasmal train that is already in motion when he appears on it, and never, in turn, arrives at a destination. While aboard, he speaks to a second, unseen presence who claims to be himself. Whether this other him is in fact the God-Emperor of Mankind remains a subject of debate.
    • Rei and Asuka both end up in the Hell Train. The real mindscrew is when, later, Touji visits the Hell Train...and sees Shinji and Rei in an adjacent car of the same train (but the train is a type that doesn't allow passengers to move from car to car). His only comment is wondering what they are talking about.
  • The entirety of Night on the Galactic Railroad, in which the main character, Giovanni, finds himself and his friend Campanella on a magical train journey across the night sky. At the end of the film it is revealed that Campanella had died saving another boy from drowning, and he has to journey on while Giovanni returns alone. The train scene from Spirited Away (mentioned above) seems to be a visual reference to this film.
  • Fantasy Railroad In The Stars by Studio Kagaya is another adaptation of Night on the Galactic Railroad, where the characters find themselves on a train running across a stylised galaxy, in one character's dream; the protagonists friend has to go on at the end, and he wakes to find that they died while he dreamt.
  • One chapter in Princess Resurrection had Hime and the gang having to board one of these while fighting one of her siblings.
  • Shaman King has Matamune, the split-tailed cat spirit, appearing in the afterlife and boarding a train. The image is an homage to Kenji Miyazawa's Night on the Galactic Railroad.
    • At the conclusion of the series, all of Yoh's friends and family arrive on a train connected by their souls to save him and the other four Elemental Warriors from being overpowered by Hao.
  • Spirited Away: The train Chihiro rides to get to Zeniba's home is intended for use by the dead moving on to the next life, driven by a faceless conductor and holding silent soul passengers (who are creepily represented as semi-featureless shadows). Kamaji comments that it "used to run both ways, but these days it's a one-way ride."
  • Zekkyou Gakkyuu: The bus in "The Bus To the Underworld," (translated as "Bus To Hell" by some groups, though it actually goes to a generic afterlife, rather than Hell). Apparently you can board even if you're not officially dead, as Miku, the protagonist boards it and wakes up in her house after refusing to get off at the stop, with her family revealing she collapsed at the station and was in a coma for three days.

    Comic Books 
  • In the B.P.R.D. story "Night Train", there's a spectral train full of ghost soldiers. Back in WWII, the train had transported soldiers, until a Nazi saboteur destroyed a bridge, wrecking the train and killing everyone on board. In the modern day, the train and its soldiers hunt that Nazi to drag him off to the afterlife for judgement.
  • The short-lived DC comic Chronos about the time-traveling hero Walker Gabriel note  had him discover that there is only one Ghost Train. It's actually a time machine, and the sightings of it throughout history have just been glimpses of it traveling back and forth.
  • In the original comic of The Crow, Eric Draven is travelling to the afterlife in a train carriage before he remembers his murdered girlfriend, as he still has Unfinished Business in the world of the living. When Death asks him for his ticket, he turns back.
  • A Post-Crisis arc has The Spectre dealing with a demon-ghost who snakes tentacles into a subway car that drink the blood of all they find.
  • A Superman arc sees Jimmy Olsen way way down on his luck, and missing a job interview (The Planet sacked him) by missing his train. Said train has The Parasite waiting on the tracks, and he drains them down to clothed skeletons, which are found at the next stop. Jimmy decides his luck may not be so bad after all. The cover to this issue has him running down the tracks as a skeletal train attendant bears the train down on him.

    Fan Works 

    Film — Animation 
  • The train station announcer in Wreck-It Ralph mentions a Soul Train departing from one of the outlets, but it's not clear whether this actually has anything to do with death or the afterlife.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Casper: A Spirited Beginning has the titular character find himself on one at the beginning. (He also doesn't realize he's dead at this point.)
  • In Darby O'Gill and the Little People, the Cóiste-bodhar (death coach) and its headless driver, a Gan Ceann, make an appearance.
  • In Defending Your Life, all souls board trains following judgment to take them on to their next incarnation.
  • In Dreamscape, the fight with the villain takes place in the President's nightmare on a train filled with dead-looking mutants traveling across a United States after a nuclear war.
  • At the end of Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, the five passengers alight from the train to find themselves on a deserted platform. A floating newspaper informs them that they died in a train accident, and Dr. Schreck reveals himself as Death.
  • The Frighteners has an afterlife express, but it only goes to Hell (those who go to Heaven just sort of appear there). In a way, it looks more like a gigantic worm that swallows whoever it's transporting and then sticks pieces of its own skin into them to make sure they stay in place/torture them.
  • This trope is discussed in From Hell. Sergeant Godley is curious about the custom of placing coins on a dead person's eyes. Inspector Abberline explains that the coins are to pay the ferryman who takes people across a river to the land of the dead.
  • The film Heart and Souls features a variant involving a bus that comes (way behind schedule apparently) to collect the ghosts now that they've had time to finish their Unfinished Business. In fact, it is the same bus (and driver) from when the four of them were killed. After they explain that nobody ever told them why they were still around as ghosts, the driver agrees to give them some time to finish their affairs now that they know HOW to, but the bus returns periodically to pick them up one by one with no more negotiation or leeway.
  • In The Heavenly Kid, Bobby dies and is immediately transported to a mysterious subway train taking him to the afterlife.
  • In Here Comes Mr. Jordan it's a plane. In it's 1978 remake, Heaven Can Wait, it's upgraded to a Concorde SST.
  • Played with in Inception. The train that is mentioned in the famous quote was actually used by the main character and his wife to return to reality after being trapped in a dream state. Not by boarding the train, though, but by deliberately letting it run them over, since the usual way of exiting a dream is by killing yourself.
  • The In the Heights movie has Paciencia y Fe as Abuela Claudia's Death Song. Here it's a Dying Dream set entirely on subway trains and stations. At the end, Claudia ascends the stairs leading out of the subway intro a white light.
  • The Mummy (1999) has a phantom chariot that comes for Imhotep's soul.
  • Outward Bound has a small group of people coming aboard a passenger liner, without any clear idea of why they're on the boat or where they're going. Turns out they're all dead and the liner is a vessel taking them to the afterlife.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean's iteration of the Flying Dutchman is the nautical equivalent.
  • Woody Allen's Stardust Memories has one in the opening, simultaneously bleak and Played for Laughs.

  • One of the Choose Your Own Adventure books centered around this.
  • The train in the fifth The Dark is Rising book, Silver on the Tree.
  • The Dresden Files: In the conclusion of Changes, Harry Dresden, fatally injured and sinking into a lake, hears the sound of an oncoming train. In the very beginning of the next book Ghost Story, you learn that there IS a train coming for him, and he has to be dragged out of the way to stop it from hitting him. This is described as a "southbound train", one that presumably leads to Hell. The Big Bad of "Ghost Story" is finally brought down by a rush of spirits so direct and forceful that it is itself described as an oncoming train, and when said Big Bad screams in terror, Dresden says that her scream was drowned out by the "sound of a southbound train".
  • In Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin, Liz goes to Elsewhere (the afterlife) on a cruise ship.
  • Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones has one of these.
  • The Big Bad in the first Ghost of a Chance uses "Downbound" trains (which normally drag people to Hell) to build itself a physical body.
  • In Maire Philips' Gods Behaving Badly Angel Islington Underground station is a gate to the Underworld of Greek mythology, with the dead taking Tube trains to the afterlife.
  • There is a modified example in The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis. There is a flying bus that travels between Heaven and Hell, and it's used only by those who are already in the afterlife. The inhabitants of Hell can board it and visit Heaven, and they can stay there if they choose to, although most don't.
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: The place that Harry visits in his Near-Death Experience turns out to be King's Cross Station, where he first went Down the Rabbit Hole. It is implied this is just what Harry sees, and that it takes a different form for different people. Dumbledore points out the significance of his imagining a train station, and that he has a choice to make between going back, or boarding a train and going "on".
    • The film versions of Deathly Hallows also foreshadow this trope by playing Nick Cave's "O Children" (see below under Music) during a key scene in Part 1.
  • Christopher Fowler's novel Hell Train has some living people tricked onto boarding a demon train that takes damned souls to Hell.
  • Played with in InCryptid. In One Hell of a Ride, Jonathan and Fran's train slips into a hell dimension (which somehow still has train tracks), and have to defend themselves and the passengers from murderous imps.
  • In the third Marla Mason book, Dead Reign, by T.A. Pratt, Marla journeys to the Underworld via a train made of the thighbone of a leviathan. She takes this train from a subway station in San Francisco.
  • Stephen King 's short story "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut" appears to have this as the ending. The story is told from the POV of an elderly man. Mrs. Todd herself is crazy for shortcuts to strange places, and by the end, the narrator goes with her.
  • Played with in Neverwhere. An Underground train of this sort appears to Richard during the ordeal of the Black Friars; however, the catch is that getting on the train, rather than committing suicide on the tracks, is what allows him to LIVE.
  • Point Horror Unleashed title Fright Train is this. The train carriage the protagonists are becomes involved in a horrific rail accident (although none of the characters realise this until the very end), with the rest of their journey taking them to the bowels of Hell.
  • The Polar Express is a more benign form of the mysterious supernatural train.
  • In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, it's a ship, not a train, but Death and Life-in-Death play dice for the crew's souls.
  • "The Little Black Train" is a short story by Manly Wade Wellman featuring his recurring protagonist Silver John. In the story, a woman named Donie Carawan is haunted by such a train that will, she fears, carry her off to Hell for her part in the death of her husband. The locals have even made up a catchy little song about how this will happen and why she deserves it. She throws a party to distract her from her fears (after using her wealth and connections to tear up all the train tracks in town), but the sounds of an approaching train continue to menace the party. John is able to use his guitar and the help of a harmonica player to simulate a Doppler effect, guiding the train further away from her, but only true penitence will permanently save her from the train.
    "A black train runs some nights at midnight, they say, and when it runs a sinner dies."
  • In the Star Trek novel I, Q, Q, Picard and Data ride a miles-long train of livestock cars filled with listless people. In this surreal story, what is actually going on is slightly unclear, but they know it will carry them to their doom.
  • Robert Bloch's Hugo Award-winning short story "That Hell-Bound Train."
  • In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40,000 Ultramarines novel Dead Sky Black Sun, Uriel and Pasanius are dragged off a spaceship onto a Chaos-warped train that runs on the "blood-tracks" and carries them into a Chaos Space Marine capital world in the Eye of Terror.
    • Sort of a Galaxy Express 666, then?
  • Night on the Galactic Railroad by Kenji Miyazawa, which has been adapted into anime twice and some stage plays and musicals. The protagonist dreams of a spectral train in space, carrying him and a freind, through some adventures, before he awakes to find the freind is believed to have died in the night, trying to be a hero.
  • In The Celestial Omnibus by E. M. Forster the titular carriage offers rides to Heaven every sunset and sunrise. The protagonist manages to get return tickets that let him come home again but the neighbor he brings the second time insists on holding onto them and then gets Rerouted from Heaven.
  • The Afterlife Antechamber in Barry Trotter And The Dead Horse has no trains but is described as looking like a huge train station. Becomes Hilarious in Hindsight when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows used this trope two years later.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The first episode of Spielberg's Amazing Stories TV series featured an old man racked by guilt over killing everyone on a train in his youth. At the end of the episode, the train he'd derailed — full of the ghosts of the people who had died — pulls into the station, and the ghostly conductor leads the old man on board.
  • Are You Afraid of the Dark?:
    • The Tale of Station 109.1 revolves around an off-the-dial radio station that calls lost souls to the other side. The protagonist, who discovers the station on a hearse's radio, ends up being mistaken for a dead person and accidentally gets sent through the gate.
    • A literal example is featured in The Tale of Train Magic, in which the ghost of a railroad conductor who died in a train wreck returns to look for a new conductor to take his place on said train.
  • The penultimate scene of Ezel shows Ezel and the mortally-wounded Eyşan seated on a train. After Eyşan dies and Ezel appears to take his own life, the camera pans to reveal the other passengers, beloved friends and family who had passed before them: Kamil, Mert, Tevfik, Ramiz, and finally, a smiling Bahar.
  • The Good Place introduces one when Eleanor is (temporarily) being whisked off to Hell at the end of the first season. From then on the neighbourhood station is the way for all the characters to traverse the various different afterlifes and architect habitats. It Makes Sense in Context.
  • The third and final Kamen Rider Den-O movie features a ghost train, hijacked by an evil Rider for his own purposes. The other trains in the series perform much the same function as Soul Trains except for time-lost individuals instead of dead ones.
  • Aunt Pol from Peaky Blinders mentions that her daughter Anna was once caught trying to board a train to Birmingham. Pol invokes this trope by saying that death was the one train they couldn't get her off.
  • Preacher (2016) has a school bus to Hell.
  • In an episode of Seriously Weird, Harris and all of the customers of the diner find themselves trapped on a ghost train (the diner originally having been a car from this train) with a ghost conductor determined to drive them to their deaths and down to Hell.
  • Star Trek: Voyager introduces the Barge of the Dead, from the episode of the same name, where the dishonored souls of Klingons are sent to Gre'thor, or hell.
  • Tales from the Darkside: The second season episode "The Last Car" had five souls trapped for all eternity on an Afterlife Express with nothing but a box of sandwiches and eternal boredom to keep them busy. Whenever they go into a tunnel, they turn into skeletons and black out.
  • The penultimate episode of This Is Us has an entirely benevolent variation. Rebecca Pearson is comatose and slowly dying, with her mind having been ravaged by Alzheimer's. As her family gathers to say goodbye to her, she experiences a luxury train ride in her mind. Unusually for this trope, while the train is moving forward, she traverses in in reverse, starting with the first passenger car and moving to the caboose. As she goes through each car, she encounters her loved ones, some living and some dead, who help her accept her death, while William acts as her guide. As her loved ones say their goodbyes in the living world, Rebecca hears them through the train's speakers. When she reaches the caboose, she finds it setup like her bedroom, and climes into bed. There she finds Jack, her first husband, who died decades previously, who welcomes her to the next stage of the afterlife.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In "A Stop at Willoughby", a man is riding a commuter train home from work. It has an announced stop at Willoughby, and it looks like such a nice, quiet place like an 1800s public square with a gazebo, band concerts, picnics etc., but then finds there is no such stop on the railroad. He realizes that it's actually a portal to the afterlife, and decides to get off, discovering it's just as nice as he thought it would be. On the train, horrified passengers saw him get up, screaming "Willoughby!", then run and jump off the train. His body is shown being carried away in a hearse, and the rear door slams, noting the name of the undertaker: Willoughby and Sons.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "Dead Run", truckers such as Johnny Davis and Pete drive the condemned to Hell in semi-trailer trucks, though seemingly only condemned Americans. According to Pete, trains are used in India and China, tramlines in Russia and old buses in Mexico.
  • The Twilight Zone (2002): "Night Route" had a woman being stalked by a creepy-looking bus driver and his bus full of souls after she narrowly avoid being hit by a car. The Karmic Twist Ending here is that not only did the car actually hit her, but the bus driver isn't Death. He's Life, and he goes to people on the brink of death when it isn't their time yet and shuttles them off to the world of the living again. Sadly, she doesn't realize this until it is too late and vanishes in a wisp of smoke.

  • The gospel song "Plenty Good Room (On The Glory Train)" is a cheerful song about the express-train to the big rail station in the sky (which was considered by many to be preferable compared to the life of a slave in the early 19th Century American South). Trains to heaven are often found in gospel songs, among them "The Gospel Train (Get On Board, Children)" and Curtis Mayfield's 1965 "People Get Ready". The oldest train to heaven song may be the 1860s Scottish hymn "The Gospel Railroad".
  • The bluegrass song "Little Black Train" and the more recent "Long Black Train" are both about this.
  • One theory on how the American folk song "Wabash Cannonball" originated is that 19th century hobos imagined a mythical train that would collect the souls of unemployed drifters who'd died while riding the rails.
  • Chuck Berry:
    • The song "Downbound Train" features one of these headed to Hell and driven by Satan himself, whose passengers have all lived lives of vice.
  • Not to be confused with the Bruce Springsteen song of the same name, where the singer has had terrible luck and just feels like he's on one of these.
    • On the other hand, Springsteen's anthem/hymn "Land of Hope and Dreams" is a glorious takeoff on "Plenty of Room on the Glory Train". While that song warns that only those who "mind what they say and do" will be allowed, Springsteen's lyrics emphasize a Christian-like forgiveness of the sin, shame and loss often experienced by his working-class protagonists.
  • Johnny Cash:
    • "Redemption Day":
    There's a train that's heading straight to heaven's gate, to heaven's gate
    And on the way, child, man, and woman wait, watch and wait, for Redemption Day
    • Johnny Cash also recorded "Down There By The Train", a song Tom Waits wrote for him, about a train that takes the souls of the dead to heaven (the song heavily implies they're not just the dead, but actually the damned by its examples of passengers, by how it describes the process of getting them ready to board, and the fact that the train explicitely waits for them to be able to get on)note . Waits later recorded his own version, which was eventually released on the album Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards.
    There's a place I know where the train goes slow
    Where the sinner can be washed in the blood of the lamb
    You can hear the whistle, you can hear the bell
    From the halls of heaven to the gates of hell
    If you've lost all your hope, if you've lost all your faith
    I know you can be cared for and I know you can be safe
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have a gospel-influenced song called "O Children" that applies this trope to the death of Orpheus from Classical Mythology.
    Hey little train, we're jumping on
    The train that goes to the kingdom
    Hey little train will you wait for me
    I once was blind but now I see
    Hey little train will you wait for me
    I was held in chains but now I'm free
  • The Chris de Burgh song "Spanish Train" is a story about a train carrying the souls of the dead to the Underworld. God and the Devil are playing Poker - gambling with the souls. Naturally, the Devil cheats and wins the game.
    • At the end of the song, they've moved on to chess. And the Devil is still cheating.
  • Metalocalypse band Dethklok made a "blues" song titled "Murdertrain a Comin'" (Why is this song the Blues? Because it's about a train, of course!). A sample of the lyrics:
    Here comes the soul collecting train of murder a-comin'
    It longs to take your putrid blackened soul away from you
    Your face will leave your rotting head, in the early morning
    Your guts will leave your corpse, your spine will break and crack in two
  • "Penn Station" by The Felice Brothers has a newly dead protagonist waiting to see which of two rival Soul Trains, from Heaven and the... other place will get to him first.
  • On "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" by Genesis, the protagonist is trapped under a rockslide, awaiting death:
    Anyway, they say she comes on a pale horse, But I'm sure I hear a train.
  • "City of New Orleans" puts a spin on this. In this song, it's the trains themselves that are headed to the proverbial afterlife, not their passengers. Steve Goodman wrote the nostalgic song about air travel driving passenger rail service out of business:
    All the towns and people seem
    To fade into a bad dream
    And the steel rails still ain't heard the news.
    The conductor sings his song again,
    The passengers will please refrain
    This train's got the disappearing railroad blues.
    • Amtrak actually still operates a passenger train called the City of New Orleans, but the rest of the song's predictions are spot on. Effective passenger rail service has almost completely disappeared from the USA. note 
  • "Ghost Train" by Gorillaz, from the "B-side" compilation G-Sidez. As with many of their songs, it's possibly a metaphor for... something.
  • In Over the Garden Wall, a rewrite of the aforementioned bluegrass classic "Little Black Train" plays as Wirt and Gregory roll down a hill after dodging a train:
    "There's an old black train a'comin'
    Scraping long the iron
    You don't need no ticket, boys
    It'll take you when it's time
  • Patty Griffin's "Stay on the Ride" is about a nameless little old man who takes a bus ride to a destination never named, though the description makes it sound like someplace after-life-y. Despite the title, he gets off before it reaches it.
  • Iron Maiden has, besides "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (a Filk Song based on the poem mentioned above), "Ghost of the Navigator", where a sailor meets during his final journey a ship filled with ghosts (though Word of God states that they're "ghosts of his subconscious").
  • The Hank Snow song "Ghost Trains" is about a normal person watching two of these racing each other. The drivers seem fairly happy for eternal railroad ghosts, though.
  • The Vernian Process song "The Last Express" centers around this trope:
    Will it go on forever?
    No one will ever see.
    As it rolls along in silence
    For all eternity!
  • "Keep Me In Your Heart For A While" by Warren Zevon uses boarding a train as a metaphor for Zevon's own terminal illness:
    ''Engine driver's headed north to Pleasant Stream
    Keep me in your heart for a while
    These wheels keep turning but they're running out of steam
    Keep me in your heart for a while''
  • The Bone Yard Circus sang of one.
    Step inside
    Take the ride
    Feel the terror
    On this GHO-O-O-ST TRAIN
  • Green Day's song Outlaws, from Revolution Radio, ends with "I found a knife on the railroad track. You took a train and you can't go back. Forever now, forever now you roam." In this case, the train is a Deadly Euphemism for Billie Joe Armstrong's friend committing suicide.
  • The historical London Necropolis Railway plays this role in "Third-Class Coffin", by The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing. The deceased singer is insulted to realise that each of the upper-class dead gets an entire train carriage for their mourners to accompany them, while the poor are stacked like freight.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Angus Og: At one point Angus, Tonald, and Mairileen hitch a ride on what appears to be a Clyde Puffer called The Flying Teuchter which turns out to be crewed by demons from Hell, and owned by Old Nick himself.
  • Lemont Brown of Candorville sometimes dreams that he boards a train from Earth to outer space, where he converses with recently deceased celebrities. For instance, he spoke with Steve Jobs in 2011 and shooting victim Trayvon Martin in April of 2012.
  • This Cartoon by Ben Jennings in The Guardian following the death of Queen Elizabeth II

    Oral Tradition 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Call of Cthulhu supplement Fearful Passages, adventure "Iron Ghost". "The Train That Ever Was" carries its victims to a terrible fate: to be devoured by Azathoth.
  • The Black Engine in Deathwatch campaign The Emperor Protects. It's a daemonic entity in the form of a train, which follows rails designed to allow it to become incorporeal and exist outside real-space. In exchange for its services, transporting psychic individuals so their souls can be drained, it's fed human slaves on every round-trip.
  • Exalted: The Midnight Express also shows as a mysterious soulsteel and moonsilver train that travels through the Labyrinth, conveying passengers to and from the Mouth of the Void. The Deathlords are interested in taking control of it; to date, they haven't succeeded.
  • In the three versions of Hell Rail, the player' task is building railroad tracks and sending damned souls to their respective circles in Hell.
  • The Tour Bus From the Underworld from Yu-Gi-Oh!
  • Wraith: The Oblivion features the Midnight Express, a train traveling through the Shadowlands that serves as neutral ground for all the rival factions of the afterlife — including those serving Oblivion.

  • The play The Ghost Train would suggest this trope... but it's actually a mystery thriller in the vein of Scooby-Doo decades before said cartoon was invented.
  • In Guys and Dolls, the song "Sit Down, You're Rocking The Boat" is about a dream the singer had about sailing away on the boat to Heaven.
  • This is the central conceit of Hadestown, which reimagines the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice on a Depression-era train line.

  • One of the sets in the LEGO Monster Fighters series is a flying ghost train driven by a trio of ghosts.

    Video Games 
  • Inverted in Afterlife (1996) by LucasArts, in which trains are used to transport reincarnating SOULs back to the planet.
  • Played with in Alice: Madness Returns where The Infernal Train that has replaced the old Looking Glass-line, and is polluting and destroying Wonderland as it goes, doesn't represent a physical death, but rather a mental one.
  • How the indie mystery-adventure game, Blackwood Crossing begins. Your teenage (and orphaned) protagonist wakes up with your kid brother on a train, with no memory how you got here, and the train's passengers all turns out to be frozen figures from the underworld wearing animal masks, with the train dragging you into some unknown, ethereal destination.
  • Bear's Cafe is a cafe where the dead get a final meal before boarding the train to Heaven.
  • Cat Boy's Stellar Journey is all but stated to be a journey through death, where the main character rides a train through space to see his long lost sister, and visits various tourist spots where he can rest his soul and let go of the past along the way.
  • Gloria, the train in The Charnel House Trilogy, is one of these. It's made obvious to the player at the end of the first episode, but the characters who board take a bit longer to catch on. The fact that the train seems like an apparently normal, if antique, train for the longest time only makes it more unnerving.
  • The Phantom Express, one of the bosses in Cuphead, is a haunted train where Cuphead and Mugman are attacked by a ghost, a giant conducting skeleton, two living pistons, and finally the sentient engine pulling the train.
  • Darkstalkers 3 had a stage called Iron Horse, Iron Terror set on an apparently sentient train engine complete with an eyeball headlight and several twitching mouths, driven by a skeletal conductor. For a series based upon horror tropes and everything related to the lore surrounding it, it's rather unsurprising that a Soul Train would be in it.
  • A high-level storyline of Fallen London allows the player character to involve themselves in the construction of the Great Hellbound Railway, for transporting passengers and shipments of souls between London and Hell. Hell has abolished all laws, including those of nature and logic, and the only thing making this project remotely possible is an alloy of railway steel that wants to go to its destination. Itís a lengthy, expensive, and politically delicate endeavour that requires navigating the interests of the British Government, Echo Bazaar and its Masters, the University of London, the Anglican Church, the Tracklayers' Union, the revolutionary Calendar Council, the deposed-and-exiled Grand Devils, and of course the infernal bureaucracy itself - and, if you are so inclined, you can find excuses to construct a statue of yourself at every station.
    • Before the Railroad, the main route was via the Stolen RiverÖ formerly known as the Thames. Ever since London fell itís flowed from Hell instead of Gloucestershire, with a network of Gondoliers responsible for escorting passengers.
    • Note, though, that Hell is just the home of devils, not strictly a place people go when they die - itís very hard to kill anyone permanently in London, they just canít return to the Surface afterward, which paints the entire Neath as The Underworld in a poetic as well as literal sense. Most transit from the Surface to the Neath occurs via the Cumaean Canal, a masterpiece of engineering in its own right whose upper end is in Lake Avernus, Italy.
  • Final Fantasy VI: After wandering onboard such a train, you have to fight it (of course) to get off. Since it's undead, a very common item will easily destroy the boss for you (or you can have Sabin suplex the train). One creepy detail about the train is that you can look at the schedule book, only to find that it's blank. It happens that the war going on is causing so many deaths that the train is pretty much running nonstop, and has been for some time.
  • The same train also appears as an Optional Boss in the GBA remake of Final Fantasy. The summon ("Doomtrain") in Final Fantasy VIII is also a reference. It also appears in Final Fantasy XIV, as a boss in the Atherial Rift: Sigmascape.
  • In Final Fantasy Tactics, one of the wonders you can discover is a soul train. Likely a direct reference to the aforementioned Phantom Train from Final Fantasy VI, seeing how many of the other wonders in the game happen to be locations and objects from the previous games in the series.
  • Grand Chase has Monster Train 301, a Event Dungeon revolving around a sideplot where a companion of Ronan, Harpe dies to Ashtaroth. In an attempt to save Harpe's soul, they board the ghost train consisting of undead, only to fight their way to the engine room. Casey Bones, the conductor says that a soul cannot return after they die, meaning that all this was unsuccessful. The train explodes after the furnace goes berserk.
    • The sequel, Grand Chase Dimensional Chaser, has the Underworld Train as the epilogue to World 5. Ronan makes a reference to this during the first part, where he "couldn't stop thinking of past memories".
  • In Grim Fandango, the Number Nine express train carries only the most saintly of souls to the Ninth Underworld in four minutes instead of four years like the others who have to travel by different means. Illegally obtaining your ticket, however, has dire consequences, as the entire train quite literally goes to Hell as a result.
  • Hatoful Boyfriend:
    • The original novel has several references to Night on the Galactic Railroad with regard to Nageki. It's his favorite story, and Anghel's fantasy-counterpart-nickname for him is "Estelle Campanella" (Campanella of the Stars).
    • In the sequel Holiday Star, the bird afterlife actually is traveling the universe on the Galactic Railroad until you forget your past life and are reincarnated. Judging by the human girl's familiarity with the Conductor, this is also her fate after all those bad ends.
  • Kingdom Hearts II: One of The Seven Mysteries of Twilight Town. It turns out to be a magic train that carries people to the Mysterious Tower, home of Yen Sid.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
  • Lobotomy Corporation has the Express Train to Hell. The main body is the ticket station, which flashes a number of lights overhead. Sending an employee to the station has them collect a ticket, which heals a certain percentage of the employees depending on how many lights are lit (at four lights, the maximum, all of your employees are healed). But if the station has four lights lit for too long, the train itself plows through your department, dealing massive damage to anyone in its path.
  • Lucidity. The entire game is about Sofi reconciling the death of her Grandmother in a dream world. The game ends with Sofi getting to say one final goodbye before her Grandmother gets on the Afterlife Express. She wakes up soon after.
  • Metro 2033 has one in the level "Ghosts". The headlights are visible as it heads down the rails, but the train itself (and if you look in the windows, the passengers) can only be seen as a shadow via your flashlight.
  • The indie game, A Mother's Inferno, have you playing as the titular Mama Bear where you lose your son after boarding a mysterious train early in the game. You search the carriages for the boy, only to realize the train is nearly devoid of life, and a demon suddenly appears welcoming you to the "Styx Express".
  • The protagonist of Pinstripe starts on a train. It's later revealed that he's Dead All Along and in some kind of Limbo.
  • Sam & Max: Freelance Police: Sam and Max board the Soul Train to visit Hell, LLC.
  • There's one in Skies of Arcadia too. Travels at high altitudes between Nasr, the Lands of Ice, and Mid-Ocean in a triangular route.
  • In Sonic Adventure 2, there are a few soul trains in the Pumpkin Hill level that keep circling through walls, though they don't really serve any purpose. Except running Knuckles over whenever the player isn't paying attention.
  • The Final Fantasy Phantom Train is used as a base for the Doom Train level in Super Mario Fusion Revival.
  • Indie visual novel Train of Afterlife is entirely about... well, you can probably guess.
  • Used in the opening and closing of Redemption Cemetery: Salvation of the Lost.

    Web Original 
  • Creepypasta:
    • Midnight Train is about all the times the narrator sees the Downbound Train, almost exactly as Chuck Berry described.
    • Valkyrie is about one of Heinrich Himmler's occult pet projects: an armored train crewed by the dead. Something, probably the vengeful Jewish souls used in its construction, causes the project to have Gone Horribly Wrong, and it instead ferries dead nazis to Hell.
  • The Transarmageddon Railroad from this person's nightmare posted on the Nightmare Project site.
  • SCP Foundation has SCP-342, though it can change its form to fit any mode of transportation or really anything that requires a ticket.

    Western Animation 
  • Long John Scarechrome's ship in Filmation's Ghostbusters.
  • In Futurama, Bender ends up on a roller coaster to Hell... Robot Hell... Complete with Singing Robot Satan...
  • An episode of Hey Arnold! had Arnold, Helga and Gerald investigating an urban legend about one. The supposed train ends up arriving, and the trio get aboard... It turns out to be a train to a metalworking factory, and there is no ghost train after all... or is there?
  • In an episode of the second season of The Hollow, the protagonists enter a a subway train from the French metro system and have to stop it from going out of control. Once they solve the puzzle, the passengers reveal that the train was this.
  • In the final episode of The Midnight Gospel, Yancy climbs into his multiverse simulator before the police blow it up. Inside he gets on a bus of seemingly infinite length, filled with characters who died in the series.
  • the song "Old Black Train" from Over the Garden Wall is clearly about the titular train as a metaphor for death (which is made even more clear by the verses not included in the actual episode). The scene in which it's heard plays on the Afterlife Express trope in a more loose sense. Wirt and Greg are transported into the Unknown (which may or may not be the Afterlife) via a train. In the sense that they barely avoided being hit by an uncoming train, but as a result fell into a river, lost consciousness and ended up in the Unknown. The sound of the train can be faintly heard over the title card of every episode.
  • In The Real Ghostbusters episode "Knock Knock", the Ghostbusters board a train in New York, only to realise that it has been taken over by demonic forces, its passengers killed and turned into skeletons. Their solution? Bust them all!
  • The Replacements features Splatter Train, an in-universe B-Movie about a ghostly train who murders teenagers at Make-Out Point.
  • In the South Park episode "Dead Celebrities" recently deceased celebrities (Farrah Fawcett, Billy Mays, David Carradine, Ed McMahon and and DJ AM") are stuck waiting on a plane to the afterlife that has yet to take off because Michael Jackson has not yet shown up.
  • On the Spongebob Squarepants episode "Graveyard Shift", Squidward tells SpongeBob the story of the Hash-Slinging Slasher, who on every - what day is it? - Tuesday night comes to the Krusty Krab on the ghost of the bus that ran him over. Later that night, a bus arrives in a cloud of fog.
    Spongebob: I didn't know the buses ran this late.
    Squidward: They don't!
  • Thomas & Friends has both Percy and Peter Sam tell stories about ghost trains. Percy's story (and the accompanying cinematic sequence) is pure horror.
  • The Tom and Jerry short "Heavenly Puss" features one. Tom has to go back to Earth and make peace with Jerry before they'll let him aboard the Heavenly Express. He doesn't make the train in time and ends up literally being dropped into Fire and Brimstone Hell, but luckily for Tom it was All Just a Dream.
  • Trese: Ibu, the goddess of the underworld, has her emissary use the MRT and LRT lines in Manila as transportation for souls to her realm.