Motionless and almost grotesque, the rusting carriages of the once fast-moving vehicles pepper the rugged or overgrown terrain. Victims of the elements and the ravages of time, their present condition seems to mock their former purpose, and yet they still hold an undeniable attraction.
There is, of course, something very romantic about trains. They’ve come to represent discovery and adventure; taking us to new and exciting places and, at the same time, bringing these destinations right to our doorsteps. Even if we’re only on our way to work, trains are often spaces where we can relax and daydream about more interesting travels. Abandoned trains, on the other hand, have a different kind of charm.
Urban explorers sometimes investigate abandoned trains and railways, photographing the empty carriages and absorbing the sites’ sometimes eerie atmospheres. Here’s a look at seven train graveyards from around the world that we found particularly fascinating.
7. Train Graveyard, Belgium
Rusted and with its paint all but peeled away, this train lies abandoned in a train yard in Belgium. It’s a shame the paintwork hasn’t survived very well; it looks like it might have been quite smart looking in its day.
Here, two train carriages sit side by side, slowly rotting away. Belgium’s national railway company amassed this collection of trains and coaches with the plan of showcasing them in a museum. However, the city government had other plans, to build a car park on the location, so the future of these antique machines is now in doubt.
This interior looks like it was once particularly comfortable, providing passengers with padded seats and solid-looking wooden frames. Now, almost unrecognizable, the seat material is ripped, ragged and covered in dust.
The control panel of this train looks more like an abandoned submarine’s than a train’s. Or maybe like something out of Lost; we can just picture Eko hulking over the controls, desperate to push the button in time. Either way, the extent of the decay makes this the perfect setting for a creepy, train-based horror movie.
6. Uyuni Train Cemetery, Bolivia
Less than two miles outside the town of Uyuni in Bolivia, sits a collection of giant rusting locomotives, their wheels sinking into the sandy ground. The trains’ state of decay is such that it’s hard to imagine them ever having moved. Translated, the graffiti on the side of this engine reads, “This is the life,” and “It needs a good mechanic.”
As the trains lie on the border of the well-known Salar de Uyuni salt flat, perhaps the corrosive action of the salty air has hastened the deterioration of these hulking relics. Mind you, the rusting carcasses could easily be 100 years old, the train line having been built in the late 19th century by British engineers living in Uyuni.
In this shot, some people have climbed onto the roof of one of the engines, apparently confident that the aging metal can still support their weight. Back when the railroad was built, Bolivian president Aniceto Arce believed that creating a strong transport system would help enrich the nation. And in its day, Uyuni’s was the largest train yard in Bolivia.
When they were functioning, these trains were used primarily to transport minerals that were mined in the area. They were not popular with all the locals, however: the indigenous Aymara people viewed the trains as an intrusion and would frequently sabotage them. Then, when the minerals ran out and the mining industry folded in the 1940s, many of the trains were simply allowed to rust where they stood. Today, the train graveyard is a popular tourist attraction.
5. Winslow Junction, New Jersey, USA
Looking at it now, you might not believe that this was once one of the busiest railroad junctions on the east coast of America. It’s the base of the Southern Railroad of New Jersey, a short-line railroad company which still has some train lines that are operational – despite the fact that many of the trains at Winslow Junction are now clearly abandoned.
Peering down in between these two trains offers a slightly spooky perspective. If you look closely, you can see a tiny orange speck in the distance, which, according to photographer Chase Schiefer, is an approaching engine. Sure it isn’t an apparition? A ghost train, perhaps?
In this shot, a rusted yellow carriage stands beside a more modern looking black train with tank cars (for carrying liquid or gas) that’s still on the tracks. One of Winslow Junction’s more dubious claims to fame is that it was the site of a train well-known accident. At around 11.30pm, on July 2, 1922, an Atlantic City-bound train known as The Owl derailed after speeding through an open switch at 90 miles an hour.
The accident at Winslow Junction caused the death of the engineer, the fireman, the conductor and four passengers. A further 84 passengers and five employees were also injured in the six-car derailment. The engineman was blamed for failing to acknowledge the junction or trying to stop the train, resulting in it plunging down an embankment.
4. Yanov Abandoned Train Station, Pripyat, Ukraine
All abandoned railway yards hold some degree of risk; getting cut on a rusty piece of metal, for example, or falling through a rotted carriage floor. However, Yanov train station in Pripyat is the only train graveyard on this list situated in a place abandoned because of nuclear disaster – the Chernobyl reactor accident of 1986.
As you can see from these photographs, there’s a sense of sadness about this train yard. The rusting carriages, piles of metal debris and what remains of the platform make it a far cry from the bustling station that once welcomed people from all over the Soviet Union to work at the nuclear power plant.
Yanov Station is less than half a mile from Pripyat’s infamous ‘Bridge of Death’, where curious locals were killed by massive radiation poisoning when they ran to the bridge to see what was going on at the plant. Pripyat itself was built to accommodate workers at the Chernobyl plant.
These days, urban explorers can access areas like the train yard if granted special permission. “There are many train cars still sitting around on and off the tracks,” says one such explorer, “And most in a very bad way. Some are extremely rusty and even too dangerous to enter.”
After the disaster, passengers arriving at Yanov station were immediately put on evacuation buses and sent back out of Pripyat. Today, the town is within the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Nobody lives there, although there is wildlife present: one visitor reported seeing snakes at the abandoned train station.
3. Bang Sue Train Yard, Bangkok, Thailand
The train station at Bang Sue is exceptionally busy; in fact, it’s the busiest SRT junction in all of Thailand. However, it also contains a graveyard for old trains such as this one. We particularly like the creepy metallic blue shades and the scratched up old window. Spooky.
A German locomotive sits in the long grass of the Bang Sue train cemetery, very far from home. In 1909, train makers Henschel were among the first to supply the Royal State Railways of Siam, as the country’s state rail company was then known. Henschel continued to send trains to Thailand up until the 1980s. This particular model is dated 1963.
It looks like this was the driver’s cab, although no on appears to have operated the train for quite some time. Unfortunately, Thailand’s train system is known for its inefficiency and is the least profitable form of state transport. What’s more, with old and badly maintained equipment, many of the trains are in a semi-rundown condition even while they are in use. That said, the rail network still carries about 50 million passengers a year.
Time and the weather – no doubt assisted by the regular monsoon rains – have eaten through the walls of this carriage. Yet, unlike this rusting wreck, some abandoned train cars around here are being put to good use. In Bangkok, the Library Train project has seen old carriages converted into a school for street children and troubled youths. Now that’s repurposing at its best.
2. Baasrode Abandoned Train Yard, Belgium
It looks like someone has attempted to preserve this grand old steam engine by covering it with tarpaulin, but vegetation is trying to creep up its side. Here, at this abandoned steam train yard in Baasrode, volunteers are trying to restore some of the old locomotives, to prevent them from rotting away.
The 1846 Henschell steam locomotive is the grandest train at this graveyard site. Formerly used in a German steel plant, and later in a mine and factory, in the 1990s the Henschell played a role in a museum before faults put it out of use.
Here’s a peek inside one of the carriages of the disused trains. The old wooden seats don’t look too comfortable, do they? They remind us more of a creaking old classroom than any kind of luxury transport.
Now this is a creepy image. The decaying metal and red lights make it look like something out of horror movies such as Saw and Hostel. Creepy. There are some smaller industrial trains at the Baasrode site, but unfortunately most of them have not been well maintained.
Unlike the first steam engine pictured in this entry, which looks like it’s still in pretty good shape, this vehicle has been allowed to rust away into ruin. Steam trains were once the most common form of rail transport, at least until the mid 20th century. Since then, of course, they have given way to diesel and electric alternatives.
1. Railway Museum Graveyard, Cincinnati, USA
They may be weatherworn and decayed looking, but these trains in the Railway Museum of Greater Cincinnati are actually well loved. Founded in 1975, the 4-acre museum has a large collection of abandoned trains. According to former chairman Tom Holley, “The primary purpose of the museum is the collection of the equipment that belonged to the seven railroads then entered Cincinnati."
This is one train you certain couldn’t miss. We love the sunny yellow color and orange trimmings – quite a contrast from most of the others in this list – so perhaps it is one of the trains here that have been restored. The museum is home to several different train types, including sleeping and baggage cars, and even an old mail train.
Not much is left of this train carriage interior, which looks as though it has been gutted. Still, it may have boasted quite a plush and stylish design in its day. It’s interesting to note all the wood used in the construction of this car, something we don’t see in the trains of today.
Clearly this train carriage isn’t going anywhere. Apart from anything else, the wheels are missing. There’s quite a bit of corrosion covering some of these old train cars, but in a way this only adds to their charm. If you're interested in historic trains, this certainly looks like a place to visit. It’s open every Saturday and Wednesday.
Abandoned trains and railway stations can actually harm the environment. Fuel, lubricating oils and greases may leak into the soil, for example – especially if a train has stood in one location for a long period of time. Also, coal dust or metal particles may be dispersed in the air, creating a possible health risk for people visiting. So, if these sites are to be used for any other purpose, they’ll need a thorough cleanup first – which may be the reason so many train graveyards seem to languish as they are.
These old trains and train graveyards have certainly left an impression on us. Although they’re slightly creepy and potentially bad for the environment, there’s also beauty and a certain sense of peace in their lonely, forsaken states.