Say Goodbye to San Antonio's South Side Ghost Slopes...for Now (2023)

Editor's Note: This story was first published on August 27, 2015.

The ghosts of children who died in a tragic school bus accident over 75 years ago won't be pushing any vehicles to safety through the Ghost Tracks at Shane and Villamain Roads any time soon. Sadly, they may be gone forever, putting an end to what some consider to be Texas' most famous ghost story, and others dismiss as one of the city's oldest urban legends.

One thing is right:Ferrovia Union Pacificclosed both highways to all traffic until Oct. 1 to build a "facade track" that will run along the existing tracks so trains can travel in opposite directions without stopping on alternate tracks miles away. The closure took many by surprise, including councilor Rebecca Viagran (D3), who said she was led to believe by company officials that there would be "community engagement" meetings before any closures. The Viagran district includes the Missions, recently declared a World Heritage Site, as well as the famous train crossing.

A Union Pacific spokesperson contacted on Friday said increased train traffic on the rapidly developing Southside is the reason for the new sideway, which will extend 5,000 to 10,000 feet alongside the existing bed. One mile is 5280 feet. The daily passing of 2 to 3 trains on the tracks has grown to 10 to 12 trains, according to Ivan Jaime, director of public relations for Union Pacific in San Antonio.

“A front rail is essentially a parallel rail that we use when we have trains coming in the opposite direction, allowing one train to stop and let the other pass,” said Jeff Degraff, director of media relations for Union Pacific in Fort Worth. 🇧🇷 “We use them to help keep our workouts moving instead of stopping miles away.”

The Legend of the Phantom Footprints

Ask a Southside native to share the story of the crossing, and the person will vaguely describe a tragic train-school bus collision on the crossing in the 1930s. Details often vary, but there are never any survivors. All the children were lost after the bus driver tried to cross in front of an oncoming train and got stuck on the tracks.

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Generations of San Antonions and visiting ghost hunters have driven to Shane Road to prove the legend that the ghosts of children haunt the intersection, pushing any vehicle stopped on the tracks to safety to prevent further tragedies. Drivers put their vehicle's transmissions in neutral and wait. Inevitably, your car or truck begins to roll slowly towards the tracks. Some who exit their vehicles later find the children's handprints in the rear trunks, proof that the ghost children pushed them to safety. It is common to see people cleaning the trunk of their vehicles with baby powder first, to better see the handprints afterwards. (See image above, photographic “proof” of Jackie Earhart. This photo can be seen in the bar atfourth ghostfora de North Saint Mary's.)

How famous are the legendary Southside Ghost Tracks? Google Maps identifies the location with these words: "haunted train tracks".

Say Goodbye to San Antonio's South Side Ghost Slopes...for Now (1)

It's too late for newcomers to prove the legend now, but Mission Road, running almost parallel to the San Antonio River's Mission Reach, becomes Villamain Road in Mission San Juan as the highway winds south past the grounds of the Mission. 🇧🇷 It passes over a Loop 410 flyover and ends at Shane Road. The route is sought after by the cycling community for training from the city center, passing through the Missions and the south zone. It is not uncommon to cross the tracks to the south as vehicles on Shane Road prepare to experience the paranormal phenomenon.

City officials granted a closure permit to Union Pacific on Friday, and sometime over the weekend or Monday, roads were closed and construction began. It's too late for anyone to test the legend, at least for now, and Union Pacific officials couldn't say how the crossing will be affected, or even whether security weapons will eventually be installed there for the first time, a decision they said was to the Texas Department of Transportation.

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The closure took councilwoman Viagran by surprise when we contacted her for this article, and represents a major inconvenience for residents who do not have an easy passage.

“When I first heard about this from Union Pacific, I thought, 'These are our ghost tracks! What are you talking about? They said they were going to get the community involved before anything started,” Viagran said on Friday. This did not happened.

Union Pacific spokespersons seemed confused about the company's policy for community involvement in such circumstances.

“When it comes to road closures, we always give a lot of notice, let people in the neighborhood know, put up signs, etc.,” Degraff said.

Viagran wasn't the only one caught off guard. Cyclists who crossed the tracks without incident last week only to find the road blocked this week. No one knew why until city officials briefed the Rivard Report on the Union Pacific project.

“We've been talking to councilor Viagran since last year about closing this road and diverting traffic,” said Jaime. “In terms of these types of projects, we own the property. We have to get a license, and on Friday we got a 45-day license, so we followed the procedure. We really don't need to have any public meetings for projects like this. The road is scheduled to reopen by October 1st and 2nd. We can finish before then."

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For many in the city, the improved rail efficiency will be a bad trade-off if Ghost Tracks ceases to exist, even if there's more myth than reality behind the lore. What high school kid hasn't seen a flying vehicle roll down Ghost Tracks? One of my older children told me that he learned about Ghost Tracks from a nanny.

oSite Legends of Americacalls San Antonio's Ghost Tracks "Texas' most famous ghost story."videoposted to YouTube in 2010 shows what any cyclist who has crossed the tracks in either direction can tell you: Shane Road, on the stretch approaching the railroad crossing, is deceptively downhill. Vehicles stopping at Shane Road and starting to cross the tracks towards Villamain Road go down a slope.

I'm sorry to write this, but it's true. It gets worse. That tragic bus accident? That never happened, at least not in San Antonio, not in Texas. At the risk of inciting readers who are true believers, here's the buzzkill

“Although the city of San Antonio has long laid claim to this folktale, pointing to the railroad junction where Villamain Road turns into Shane Road, where cars seem to behave strangely and near a set of streets named after children. (Bobbie Allen, Cindy Sue, Laura Lee, Nancy Carole and Richey Otis), the bus accident that gave rise to the legend occurred in a town over a thousand miles away.

“In December 1938, in Salt Lake City, Utah, 26 children, ages 12 to 18, lost their lives when the school bus they were traveling in stopped on the tracks and was struck by a freight train. No similar accident occurred in San Antonio, but in 1938 that city was the subject of frighteningly detailed coverage for nearly 10 days in your local newspaper about the Salt Lake City accident, the memory of which later served to convince subsequent generations that the tragedy had occurred. Place, place. placelocally.

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“San Antonio's 'ghost tracks' are nothing more than an optical illusion. The mysterious movement of vehicles at that junction is the result of a slight unevenness at the site, which works to remove vehicles that were placed in neutral from the road. As for the nearby streets supposedly named in memory of the children who died, they were actually named after the grandchildren of a developer."

All of this may be true, but Union Pacific would do well to respect Southside's history and ensure that the improvements being made do not visibly or invisibly alter reality. The real test will come on October 1st. Bring baby powder.

*Main Image/Feature: Proof: An antique car is covered in the hands of ghost children, made visible by a layer of baby powder. This photo can be seen in the Phantom Room bar in North Saint Mary's. Photo by Jackie Earhart.

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