Technically, the roundhouse is in Brisbane — but it’s adjacent to the southern end of San Francisco — amid neighborhoods called Bayshore and Visitacion Valley (and, ahem, Sunnydale). It was constructed in the early 1900s, and the remains of it still stand. There’s an effort underway to restore it.
However, I suspect few people, even among the restorers, know that a phantom locomotive has been linked to the structure’s history. On May 10, 1908, The San Francisco Call published a full-page article on exactly that. The writer, F. Jay Cagy, uses as his focus the roundhouse’s watchman, a man named Michael Flaherty. According to Cagy, while Flaherty has never seen a spectral train at the site, “more than once,” he
has heard the rails click with approaching wheels, heard the weird warning of a ghostly whistle, . . . and, standing back from the roundhouse switch, has heard the phantom locomotive pass with a rush of wind and run straight on through the closed doors of the empty roundhouse, into its echoless interior.
Cagy uses this as springboard for other accounts of phantom locomotives that other trainmen claimed to have witnessed out west. There’s the late Pete Quinn. Quinn was the engineer in a long-distance passenger train, the No. 7, running through the Sierras and toward “Oakland Mole.” At some point, he spotted another train heading straight for him! He did his best to brake — but then he prayed for safety instead of jumping to it. “There was a sensation as of swiftly rushing air and the phantom locomotive passed through or over No. 7,” writes Cagy. After the bizarre experience, Quinn somehow knew the spectral train had appeared as a warning of something. Sure enough, upon investigation, he and the conductor discovered that a trestle bridge ahead of them had been washed out by storm higher in the mountains. Cagy’s source for the story? Flaherty, who had shared an engine with Quinn is earlier days.
Next, Cagy retells another story heard by Flaherty. It involves a Santa Fe railroad telegrapher, who witnessed a phantom locomotive “sent” to foretell and prevent an impending collision between a train carrying freight and one carrying 500 passengers. The article ends with a third tale, one more recent and closer to San Francisco. It involves yet another warning delivered by a phantom locomotive, this one prompting a trainman to stop his engine and, thereby, to save the occupants of an automobile that had wrecked on the tracks ahead.
Flaherty’s tales — or Cagy’s retellings of them — are too sketchy to locate where any of these three phantom trains were spotted. Indeed, it’s uncertain how much stock one should put into Cagy’s claim that Flaherty had heard a phantom locomotive pull into the roundhouse, especially when the reporter also says a visit from the ghost train is “anxiously desired at the new roundhouse.” Wait. So did Flaherty experience it or not? Or is this to say that the roundhouse workers hope a supernatural warning arrives before any disasters do?
One thing we know for sure is that the ruins are presently fenced off. Nonetheless, the creators of this well-done video suggest permission to explore it can be gotten from San Francisco Trains. Be safe, ghost hunters! And if you visit the roundhouse, please let us know if you spot either a phantom locomotive or, perhaps, a ghostly watchman named Michael Flaherty eagerly awaiting the arrival of one.