Although trains are usually seen as fun, whimsical machines, they can be used for sinister purposes too. A Ghost Train is a train that has supernatural qualities, and is usually used to carry around ghosts or other monsters, scare people, or for other creepy purposes.
This trope, often seen in folklore, usually takes the form of an old steam train with a dark, twisted appearance. It may be inhabited by a ghostly conductor and passengers, and it may have been either created by the ghosts, or a normal train that they possess for their own ends. Alternatively, the train itself may be fully sentient.
It may often be seen in kid friendly works, especially those with Defanged Horrors, because in a way, it replaces the more conventional fun that trains bring with a more spooky sort of fun.
- In Almost Psycho Chuck Chicken, the four main characters are trapped on a train that never stops moving, thus the name of that part of the story "Almsot Ghost Train".
- Ghostbusters (1984): A reporter invokes the trope by describing a spectral locomotive his grandmother used to tell stories about when he was a boy.
- In Ghostbusters II, Ray, Egon and Winston explore the haunted catacombs beneath New York, one of the apparitions being a ghost train. Egon was quick to identify the train as being the old New York Central "City of Albany" that was accidentally derailed in 1920, killing over 100 people.
- Some film adaptations of Sir Arnold Ridleys The Ghost Train fiddle with the plot a bit. One 21st-century adaptation has the ghost train actually be a ghost train, rather than the usual Scooby-Doo Ending.
- The Silverpilen (Swedish for "Silver Arrow") was a train used by the Stockholm Metro from the 1960s to the 1990s. Although it's really just a rare train of unusual design, some people alleged that the train was supernatural; claiming that it picks up passengers at night, who either disappear forever or only return after a long period of time (weeks, months, or even years).
- Statesville, North Carolina is said to have a ghost train that visits on the anniversary of a horrific 1891 crash in which a train plummeted from a high bridge and about 30 people were killed. Witnesses on the anniversaries of the wreck have heard screeching train wheels, screaming passengers, and the crash itself. Many have also reported seeing a man in a railroad uniform carrying a gold watch who vanished before their eyes. A spectator watching for it on the anniversary in 2010 was caught on the railroad bridge by a modern train and killed, raising the eeriness of the site.
- Abraham Lincoln's funeral train is said to reappear on the anniversary of his death, especially around Albany, New York, although some say it runs the entire route from Washington DC to Illinois.
- Five Go Off To Camp has a sinister 'spook-train' that runs at dead of night and disappears into its tunnel without reappearing at the other end. In the end the phenomenon proves to have a rational explanation.
- An adventure game book Ghost Train by Steven Thraves features an exploration of a haunted railway in the Scottish Highlands, where there is a chance of seeing the ghost train.
- Gary Crew's Gothic Hospital has a small burial site on the grounds. At one of the graves, a light appears from an unknown source each evening, after a steam whistle. The haunting is revealed to be the ghost of a young boy who died at the hospital, whose job it is to light the light over the grave; he comes to work every night aboard the Ghost Train, which is the source of the whistle sound.
- The Man Who Got Off the Ghost Train: In the 1950s, Diogenes agents Harry Cutley, Annette Amboise, Danny "Magic Fingers" Myles, and Richard Jeperson board the Scotch Streak, an express train from London to Scotland with a reputation for being haunted and a high fatality rate among its passengers. They are unprepared for what they will find, and not all of them will get off alive at the other end.
- Subverted in Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt novel Night Probe. While investigating the disappearance of a train that was carrying a critically important passenger, Pitt hears stories of a "ghost train" that appears on stormy nights, follows the lost train's path, and disappears when it reaches the bridge where the lost train fell into a river. He later figures out that the story is a hoax, carried out using a locomotive's headlight and a PA system broadcasting train noises being pulled along a cable suspended above the ground. However this gives Pitt a "Eureka!" Moment as to what happened to the lost train—it never fell into the river as the witnesses were hoaxed in a similar fashion.
- Mentioned in passing in one Skulduggery Pleasant short story, in which Valkyrie asks Skulduggery if there are such things as ghost trains, given that the death they are investigating left a body looking like it had been hit by a steam train and turned into sauce all over the living room, with some neighbours claiming they heard a train pass through the place, though there are no holes in the walls. The answer is yes, but they cannot harm anyone the culprit turns out to be a magic pen which makes you write out a custom death scene, then kills you by making the scene happen, irrespective of how impossible it would be. The viewpoint character has to be rescued by the heroes from being eaten by a shark in the victim's living room.
- The Terence Hill Live-Action Adaptation of Lucky Luke had an episode about a ghost train. The train turns out to be fake, but at the end when Luke mentions the person who helped him solved the case, he's told she's been dead for years...
- The YTV show Seriously Weird had the gang encountering a real ghost of a boy who had died in a train accident. The ghost uses his powers to change the diner that they are at, into a real life ghost train (the same one he died in), and sends it headed towards impending doom.
- Billion Babies had one song called Ghost Train, which the Tweetsie Railroad seem to have adopted as the unofficial soundtrack for their yearly Hallowe'en ghost train.
- YouTube composers Derek and Brandon Fiechter have a song called Ghost Train as part of their Creepy Circus Music series. The story in the video's description describes a haunted train that moves on its own.
- The Gorillaz song Ghost Train only refers to this in his lyrics, but it's about something that goes after narrator's soul, and how he's prepared to fight against it. Being the "ghost train" part said after every line of the song, probably the narrator refers to the train itself that goes after him.
Here they come to steal my soul
Wait it out until I know
Trying not to feel like you did
Moving up until I go go-o
- Madness had ''Waiting for the Ghost Train", about South Africa's apparent immobility on the issue of apartheid.
- Hank Snow sang of ghost trains racing each other through the night sky.
- The Stranglers released a song called Ghost Train on their 1984 album Dreamtime. The song was a metaphor for the lack of teamwork and demand of all the band members to be on top.
- The track Ghost Train by Waterflame is based on, well, a ghost train.
- Many artists have released a song called "Ghost Train". Searching the phrase on Youtube will yield a nightmarish amount of results.
- Call of Cthulhu supplement Terror Australis, adventure "Pride of Yirrimburra". While the investigators are in Yirrimburra, they will hear legends of a ghost train that was lost when it fell into a river. It's said that those about to die will hear its whistle blow. Later in the adventure, if the investigators are walking along the abandoned railroad tracks at night, they will hear the whistle of a locomotive and the tracks will vibrate.
- The Night Train from Deadlands is used by the feral Nosferatu vampires to travel around at day (through the tracks of the undead-friendly Bayou Vermillion railroad) and find new victims at night.
- It's not alone. The Union Pride was attacked by Confederate cavalry and crashed into a years-long fireball, due to being fuelled by ghost rock; in the D20 edition, the train may end up puffing into town one night and the ghosts of the soldiers will come out and do much the same thing as the Night Train vampires. And there are more; the supplement Saddle Sore has the Nightingale, which picks you up from a legitimate railroad station and leaves you at your destination after messing with your PCs, and leaves you at a closed station with no-one expecting a train at that time. It soon becomes apparent that you just fell for the old Phantom Trucker routine.
- Ravenloft has Cyre 1313, the Mourning Rail. Originally from Cyre in Eberron, it attempted to escape the Mourning, but was held up by a mysterious VIP passenger who forced other passengers of the train to have more room for themselves and their entourage. Now, the Mourning Rail travels through the mist, unaware that it carries only the dead.
- The 1923 comedy suspense thriller The Ghost Train by Arnold Ridley depicts a group of people stranded at a rural railway station on the anniversary of the titular train’s destruction, despite being warned that said ghost train is due to put in an otherworldly appearance that night.
- The Monster Fighters theme included a set called "Ghost Train", a spooky-looking train with glow-in-the-dark elements and a creepy face on the front, driven by a group of troublemaking ghosts.
- The later LEGO Hidden Side theme gave us "Ghost Train Express". Unlike the previous one, this looks like a modern times derelict cargo train. Its face consists of patterns on front windows looking like its eyes, and a hidden jaw that it can open. On top of that, it has wings and is driven by a driver possessed by a ghost. Spooky.
- AdventureQuest Worlds had a Friday the 13th event in 2011 featuring a Ghost Train. The player, Voltaire, and Deady board the train as a quick means of traveling the desert. However, they have to fight their way off in order to leave the train, as passengers are not permitted off once boarded.
- Wartrain Gouon of Bayonetta 3 is a demon in the form of a heavily-armed train that Bayonetta can use as either a weapon in the form of a massive chainsaw with train whistles or a transformation that allows it run through enemies and blast away with it's various cannons.
- Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night has a level take place on a train that's been possessed by a demon. The bad news is you have only a few minutes to get through and kill the demon that's infested the engine, but the good news is Zangetsu is rampaging through the level with you and he can tear any opposition apart effortlessly.
- Control has a variation of this in the AWE DLC: the Eagle Limited Train Car is an altered item created from the aftermath of a supernatural terrorist incident that caused it to derail, killing 60 passengers and injuring many more. The twist is that it's not malevolent nor haunted by the deceased — the train itself formed a sort of sapience from the incident and has been so consumed with guilt that its interior has become an odd Pocket Dimension, reliving its own crash over and over again.
- The Phantom Express from Cuphead is a creepy living train who carries a ghost with eyes on the palms of its hands, a giant skeleton conductor, and two lightning-shooting pistons through a dark forest. Once you've fought all four of the train's crew, the engine, dubbed the Head of the Train (his exact name) himself becomes furious and chases after you to commence the final phase of the fight.
- In Vampire Savior/Darkstalkers 3 there's the "Iron Terror", a monstrous ghost train which serves as the stage for Jon Talbain/Gallon in the game. Also this stage can be seen few stages before getting Jedah, so it's probable the Iron Terror goes to Jedah's headquarters.
- Final Fantasy:
- Doomtrain in Final Fantasy VIII is a secret Guardian Force acquired through a sidequest vaguely hinted at by some in-game magazines. It appears as a steam train with a ghoulish looking face sticking out of the front, and its summon attack, Runaway Train, has it crash into enemies, inflicting poison damage and Status Effects. Its original Japanese name was Glasya-Labolas, as in the President of Hell, meaning it's a demon who just happened to take on the form of a ghost train in this universe.
- Final Fantasy VI has a level where Sabin and Cyan are trapped on a Ghost Train, eventually escaping and fighting the train itself for the Boss Battle. This boss is infamous for two reasons: not only does its undead nature mean that revival items kill it instantly, it's also possible for Sabin to suplex it.
- Final Fantasy Brave Exvius had a Halloween event in 2016 that featured a ghost train full of hostile evil spirits,
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas had a rake of mixed freight wagons running along a line with no motive power connected. Another train will eventually drive right through it and knock you off it.
- Haunt the House: Terrortown has a level taking place on a big carnival train. You play as a ghost who lives in the train's smokestack, and as in the rest of the game, you possess the (frankly, already somewhat creepy-looking) props around the train to scare everyone off.
- The Monster-themed Downloadable Content for LittleBigPlanet has you riding around on a skull-shaped locomotive. In fact, the level is even called "Ghost Train!!!".
- Invoked in Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, in the level "Ambush Maneuver". Prof. E. Gadd shrinks Luigi down so he can enter a toy train set in one mansion. After activating the train, Luigi gets attacked by a giant Boo. He must fight the boo in the train set, while the train circles around them and Creepy Circus Music plays. Ironically, though, Luigi actually uses the train to defeat the Boo, by using the big drill on its front to split the Boo into smaller Boos, then flinging them into the train cars, trapping them.
- Murdered: Soul Suspect: It is shown that the museum used to be a train station in the past, as ghostly train tracks are visible throughout the building and remnants of train cars can be found just outside it.
- Red Dead Redemption II has a pretty creepy ghost train that pops up as an easter egg.
- The first game seemed to feature one as a glitch or development oversight - you move down a train as it's moving until you get onto the footplate, which is completely unoccupied, but the train pulls into a station and stops by itself anyway.
- At one point in Metro 2033, you encounter a ghost subway, reliving its final moments before it crashed.
- SCP-1489 ("A "Ghost Train"). SCP-1489 is a train (1 locomotive and 18 railway cars) that has been herded into traveling along a circular track. It has no physical substance and will pass through any material except old railway components. If not touching such components, it flies through the air in a straight line. The SCP Foundation started stories about "ghost trains" to discourage people from believing witness accounts of SCP-1489's travels.
- Bat Pat: Season 2 of the animated series introduces Engine 13, a supernatural flying steam engine piloted by a zombie. However, like most monsters in this show, the zombie is friendly, and the protagonists frequently use the train to travel to locations away from their hometown.
- In one episode of Hey Arnold!, Arnold and his friend investigate the Legend of Engine 25, about a train piloted by a mad engineer which takes its passengers to the fiery heart of the underworld. It turns out be a Double Subversion: There's a real Engine 25, an industrial train that stops at a steel mill, and all the supernatural phenomena Arnold witnesses have perfectly rational explanations, but after Arnold concludes it's an urban myth, the audience is shown the train leaving the steel mill with the ghost of the engineer riding on its front.
- Alan Rails from Rick and Morty is a member of the intergalactic Super Team the Vindicators. Having survived a derailed train crash that killed his parents, Alan was gifted with the power to summon ghost trains.
Alan Rails: All aboard motherf*ucker!
- In one episode of Thomas & Friends titled "Ghost Train", Percy tells a story about a ghost train to Thomas, but he doesn't believe him. Later when Percy goes through a farm, he accidentally crashes into a cart full of lime and gets covered in a white substance. Seeing the possibility in this, he decides to scare Thomas before he gets cleaned up in the end.
- In another episode Rusty tells the story about a train that fell off a bridge into a swamp after getting halfway across the bridge, Rusty says that the ghost of the train appears at midnight still trying to get across the bridge.