The Ghost Train of Saluda Grade

Published 12:04 pm Monday, October 23, 2023

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SALUDA —“The Ghost Train of Saluda Grade” is a story first told over 100 years ago. What follows is the local ghost story as told by author Matt Bumgarner. 

The first published account of a “ghost train” on the historic Saluda steep mountain grade can be traced to 1903, when a conductor claimed to have seen a runaway ghost train on the track near what we know as Sand Cut for several nights in a row. 

The ghost train was apparently discovered when the conductor was assigned to flag oncoming trains to keep them from hitting a rock slide that had temporarily blocked the track just past the curve at Sand Cut.   In the September 11, 1903 edition of the Lenoir Topic, it was reported that: “Shortly after arriving to the spot, the conductor saw a headlight and heard the roar of the approaching train.” 

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The account claims that “he could see the engine plainly and hear the screeching of the brake shoes against the wheels and note the grind of sand on the rail, but no heed whatsoever was paid to his red lantern.

“Nearer and nearer and faster and faster the train approached. The conductor stepped off the track as the train ran down the steep mountainside. All went well until the train reached the sharp curve. Instead of riding the rails around the curve, the engine and cars went straight on and disappeared through the trees. The rear signal light finally went out as the thick foliage of the trees closed around the ghost train.

“Some people have tried to dismiss the ghost train as an old man’s imagination.” 

Then again, to this day, some believe in the ghost train of Saluda Grade. Some say they have seen it…heard it…felt it as it passed and disappeared into the forest. This strange event happens over and over again. 

What really happened in 1903? Perhaps, we will never know. But on a clear moonlit October night near the number one safety track on the Saluda Grade, one can stand quietly and may chance to see and hear the Ghost Train of Saluda Grade.  


Submitted by Nita High