If you go right outside of San Antonio, Texas, to an area near a place called the San Juan Mission and make your way to the intersection of Villamain and Shane roads you will come to a rather nondescript and mostly unremarkable stretch of railway tracks cutting through. To the casual visitor this may seem like a completely ordinary intersection in an ordinary town, a bland set of railway tracks that look like any others, but to many living in the area this is a place steeped in dark legends, lore, and supernatural strangeness. These are the haunted railway tracks of San Antonio.
As with most haunted places the location itself has its own grim origin story and a history bathed in suffering, tragedy, and blood. It was here that, according to the lore, in the 1930s or 40s there was supposedly a horrific accident. It is said that a busload full of school children was making its way across the intersection when the bus stalled right there on the tracks, just as a train was speeding along towards them. The driver apparently did all he could to save as many of the kids as possible, but since this is now a haunted place and this story is key to it all you probably see where this is going. The barreling train was unable to stop in time, and spectacularly collided with the school bus, sheering it completely in half, reducing it to twisted wreckage and killing 10 of the children on board, as well as the bus driver himself. The version of the tragedy changes slightly depending on who you ask, for instance in one version the bus driver was a nun, and everyone was killed except her when she miraculously was thrown from the catastrophe unscathed, but in every version we have a horrible accident involving the deaths of innocent children.
The result of this is that the intersection and its stretch of train tracks is thought to have somehow tethered the spirits of these children to it, and that they have stayed in order to make sure no one suffered the same violent fate. To this end it is said that cars parked on the tracks will inexplicably roll forward on their own as if being pushed, and it is not uncommon for people to report the disembodied voices or apparitions of these lost children. Other weird phenomena reported from here include the appearance of tiny hand prints on cars, cars stalling before they can even reach the tracks, ghost lights, and even reports of an actual ghostly train that will come careening down the tracks only to vanish into thin air. There have even supposedly been photos taken of the spectral children, including one taken that purportedly shows the ghost of a child holding a teddy bear, standing forlornly by the tracks where she died all of those years ago. One witness said on Legends of America of her strange experience at the tracks:
One afternoon, I had gone to the railroad tracks with a few friends. After having drove over the tracks a couple of times, we were chatting with some visitors who had already taken a Lincoln Continental (2.5 tons +) over the tracks once. They were a husband and wife, and a visitor from Mexico, who didn’t believe the event, accusing the husband, who was driving, of making the car roll. So, the husband and wife got out let their Mexican visitor take the wheel for himself.
They staged the Lincoln about five yards back from the tracks, with the engine shut off. With their visitor in the driver’s seat, the car suddenly began to scream and slamming on the brakes. However, he could not stop the car until it completed its crossing of the tracks! He had also tried putting the transmission in park, but it still sped forward! I’ve never seen anyone so terrified. Once the car finally stopped, he jumped out, still screaming and shouting in Spanish, then demanded that his hosts take him back to his hotel, stating further that he was leaving and was never coming back!
I once went over in my 1968 Firebird convertible with a new parakeet in the car. The bird had been chirping happily, until we staged the vehicle for the tracks, when suddenly his chirping was completely silenced. It wasn’t until we left the area that he began to chirp again.
Such phenomena have made the tracks a popular place for macabre curiosity seekers looking to experience something paranormal for themselves, and many report not being disappointed. Indeed, visitors are known to sprinkle baby powder upon their vehicles in order to accentuate the handprints that appear, and accounts of witnessing these prints appear in the powder are numerous. Such stories have been enough to draw droves of people here to this day, as well as to gain the attention of various paranormal researchers, and the haunted railway tracks have appeared on shows devoted to such things, such as Sightings and Unsolved Mysteries.
It’s all very spooky to be sure, but of course there are those skeptical of all of this, and there have been many attempts to debunk the tales as a mere local urban legend. Rather famously Matt De Waelsche, an archivist with the San Antonio Public Library, made efforts to debunk it all in 2003. According to him, there was no evidence of a bus crash in the records for that intersection, and the nearest place where anything remotely like that happened in that time period was way over in Salt Lake City, Utah. As for the rolling of vehicles, he explained this as being the result of a very slight incline, which through an optical illusion makes it appear as if it is an actual uphill slope. However, this does little to explain all of the other paranormal phenomena allegedly experienced here, and there are plenty of people who believe this is truly a haunted place. One local believer has said of the tracks and efforts to debunk them:
I used to live in Seguin, Texas. I know many dispute the legend of the railroad track ghosts. However, I was witness to one very indisputable event there in my late teens, early 20s. Personally, I don’t think a tow degree declination is enough to push a 3600 pound car (2 tons with passengers) over those tracks with no starting momentum… But…
Personally, I think the “experts” are “debunking” the myth so that people stop coming to the ghost tracks. The area has developed considerably since my visits, with a number of nearby residences. When I went, it was “countryside” near an industrial area. Also, the targeting criminals probably live nearby; kids/teens. If their debunking helps divert unwelcome visitors, more power to them. However, I know the tracks myth is real! Incidentally, I never went over the tracks with the engine running, unlike most who try this. Timeframe of my experiences there was mid 1970s to 1981. Whether or not a bus did get struck by a train there, there is something psychic in the area. I personally think the spirits there go much farther back in history than the use of buses. Was there an orphanage there once? Did someone once stall there in a vehicle after the tracks were laid and got killed? Those are the questions the debunkers should be researching.
So is there anything to this tale, or is it all urban legend and misunderstandings? No matter what anyone thinks people still make their way out to these tracks to try and see the phenomena for themselves, even though the area has become greatly developed and the railway added to in recent years. Just what is going on at the haunted tracks of San Antonio? Only one way to find out, and that is to go and try and see for yourself.