The Truth About The San Antonio Railroad Children

Phantom children. Railroad tracks. Two spooky things that seem to pop up often in scary stories. But rarely do the two seem to frighten together — the notable exception being the story of the San Antonio railroad children. This particular urban legend has been around for decades and possibly dates back to the 1930s or 1940s, when a busload of school children had the misfortune to stall out on the tracks south of San Antonio.

According to Legends of America, despite the train spotting the bus and trying frantically to brake in time, the train nonetheless hit the bus and killed ten of the children inside. Not content to spend their afterlives just walking the tracks or haunting their own homes, the ghostly children have instead allegedly been known to patrol the area, waiting for stalled vehicles and pushing them uphill out of harm’s way. Some folks even claim to have found out a way to test the truth behind this story.

The Ghostly helpers of San Antonio

The curious among us have apparently put the story to the test by shifting into neutral and slowly rolling on to the tracks. These brave souls claim that they have felt their cars being pushed uphill and off the tracks. A crafty few have allegedly coated their bumpers with baby powder only to find tiny handprints afterward on closer inspection. Others claim to have heard children’s laughter echoing on the lonely tracks.

As ghost stories go, it’s a good one; the spirits appear to have no malice toward the living and only want to help. Still, despite not being as salacious as some other spooky tales, the story spread like wildfire over the years.

Interest in the case only grew after it was featured in the press and on shows like Sightings and Unsolved Mysteries. It even got the film treatment, serving as inspiration for the (admittedly largely forgotten) slasher, Fingerprints — a reference to those ghostly remnants seen on the cars.

Are San Antonio's railroad children more fantasy than reality?

So you’ve got some altruistic (and possibly very cute) ghosts and a story that happened so long ago (if at all) that it’s almost impossible to prove or disprove, though plenty of people have tried. On the “nope” end of things, researchers have failed to find evidence in news accounts from the time that indicate any similar story (which, arguably, would have been a big one).

Also raining on our ghost parade? Physics. According to Legends of America, the appearance of the upward grade (that hill the kids allegedly push cars up) is an illusion and there’s actually a subtle two-degree decline, which might be enough to edge cars off the tracks on its own.

And before you rue the facts that blunt the story’s creep factor, have a little empathy for the people who live nearby, whom the Legends site says have grown tired of the gawkers and (worse) the hard partiers who gather to get rowdy and test the story. Some have even reported carjackings, legit scarier than spooky kids.

But all this is just supposition now. According to KSAT, Union Pacific made traffic changes to the intersection in 2018, forever relegating the story to the past. As a company spokesperson said, “Obviously, we did not propose this project because of that phenomenon, that is just a side benefit.” Huh. Notice he didn’t exactly deny the stories. We’ll take our scares where we can find them.

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