I Hear That Train A Comin’: Favorite Railroad Songs

Fascination with trains is in my blood. My grandfather worked in a rail yard for a time, and I remember well when he took my brother and I onto an engine and let us blow the whistle while he drove it a short distance forward and back.  My father has been an avid model railroad collector since he was a kid, and has passed on to me the tradition of putting up a train around the Christmas tree. Now I live in a town whose fortunes have both risen and fallen with the railroad, and I often ride the commuter train into work.

Since the earliest days of the iron horse, trains have been celebrated in song by those who have lived, worked and played along the railroad tracks. It is a potent symbol for many  tensions that mark the modern world: man vs. machine, nature vs. man, future vs. past.

On a recent trip into D.C. on the MARC train, I asked my Facebook friends and Twitter followers for their favorite train and railroad songs, and the large response proved to me that trains and train songs still hold a special place in many hearts and memories. They are songs about trains, stories that take place on a trains, sounds that mimic trains and trains used as a symbol for relentless progression or nostalgic remembrance. Some are over a hundred years old while others have just recently been released. They cross the borders of geography, race and musical styles. This list is by no means meant to be a complete list of train songs, but it does show the diverse interpretations and use of the train in American music.

I have done my best to give proper attribution to the writers of these songs. Any corrections are most welcome. Did I miss your favorite? I’d love to hear what they are, so me know in the comments or tweet me @SthMtnMike.

Song Author Recorded By
2:19 Tom Waits Tom Waits
500 Miles Hedy West Peter, Paul & Mary
All Aboard Stefl, Ellsworth & Rodgers The Del McCoury Band
A Train Robbery Paul Kennerley Levon Helm, Dirt Farmer
Big Railroad Blues Noah Lewis Grateful Dead
Bluegrass Express Bobby Osborne Rhonda Vincent “The Storm Still Rages”
Blue & Lonesome Traditional Down From the Mountain
Blue Railroad Train A. & R. Delmore Tony Rice, Josh Williams
Blue Train (Of the Heartbreak Line) John Loudermilk Nashville Bluegrass Band
Bringing in the Georgia Mail Fred Rose Flatt & Scruggs
Casey Jones Robert Hunter, Jerry Garcia Grateful Dead
Church of the Level Track Tim Barry Tim Barry
City of New Orleans Steve Goodman Arlo Guthrie, Seldom Scene
Conjunction Junction Bob Dorough Schoolhouse Rock
Crazy Train Ozzy Osbourne Ozzy Osbourne
Destination Anywhere Valerie Simpson & Nicholas Ashford The Committments
Down there by the Train Tom Waits Tom Waits, Johnny Cash
Downtown Train Tom Waits Tom Waits, Rod Stewart
Dusty Boxcar Wall Eric Anderson Eric Anderson
Fast Freight Terry Gilkyson Kingston Trio
Fireball Mail Floyd Jenkins (aka Fred Rose) Roy Acuff, Lonesome River Band
Freight Train Elizabrth Cotten Elizabeth Cotten, Grisman & Garcia
Freight Train Boogie Traditional Delmore Brothers
Fulsom Prison Blues Johnny Cash Johnny Cash
The Gambler Don Schlitz Kenny Rogers
Glendale Train John Dawson New Riders of the Purple Sage
Green Light on the Southern Norman Blake Norman Blake
Greenville Trestle High Traditional Doc Watson
Hear My Train a Comin’ Jimi Hendrix Jimi Blues
He’s Coming To Us Dead Traditional Dry Branch Fire Squad
Hey Porter Johnny Cash Johnny Cash, Marty Stuart
Hobo’s Last Ride Norman & Nancy Blake Hank Snow
Hootin’ the Blues Sonny Terry Sonny Terry
Homeward Bound Simon & Garfunkel Simon & Garfunkel
I Know You Rider Traditional Seldon Scene, Grateful Dead
It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry Bob Dylan Jerry Garcia Band
I’ve Got The Railroad Blues A. & R. Delmore Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper
John Henry Traditional IIIrd Tyme Out, Carolina Chocolate Drops
The Jupiter and the 119 Todd Scheaffer Railroad Earth
Just Like This Train Joni Mitchell Joni Mitchell
Kentucky Borderline Rhonda Vincent, Terry Herd Rhonda Vincent “One Step Ahead”
Like the 309 Johnny Cash Johnny Cash
The Last Ride Halcomb & Daffan Hank Snow
Little Black Train Traditional IIIrd Tyme Out
Last Train From Poor Valley Norman Blake The Skylighters
Locomotive Breath Ian Anderson Jethro Tull
Long Black Train Josh Turner Josh Turner, Conway Twitty
Long Train Runnin’ Tom Johnston Doobie Brothers
Love Train Gamble & Huff The O’ Jays
Me & Bobby McGee Kris Kristofferson & Fred Foster Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead
Midnight Train to Georgia Jim Weatherly Gladys Knight & The Pips, Indigo Girls
Move Along Train Roebuck Staples Levon Helm, Electric Dirt
Mule Train Boxcar Willie Boxcar Willie, Bo Diddley
Mystery Train Junior Parker & Sam Phillips Jerry Garcia Band
New Railroad Traditional Crooked Still
Night Flight John Paul Jones Led Zeppelin
Nine Pound Hammer Traditional Bill Monroe, Tony Rice Unit, Stanley Brothers
Old Train Herb Pedersen Tony Rice
On the Evening Train Hank Williams Hank Williams, Johnny Cash
Orange Blossom Special Traditional Bill Monroe, Johnny Cash, Old & In The Way, Stanley Brothers
Raised on the Railroad Line Paul Craft Seldom Scene
Reuben’s Train Traditional The Holy Modal Rounders, Thomas Bailey
Railroad Blues Traditional New Lost City Ramblers, Sam McGee
Railroad Bill Traditional Crooked Still, Dan Zanes
Ridin’ That Bluegrass Train John Pennell Sam Bush “Laps in Seven”
Rhythm of the Wheels Vincent, Smith, Buxton, Dunaway, Cooper, Bruce Rhonda Vincent “All American Bluegrass Girl:
Royal Station 4/16 Melissa Etheridge Melissa Etheridge
Steel Rails Louisa Branscomb Allison Krauss
Texas Eagle Steve Earle Steve Earle & The Del McCoury Band
Texas 1947 Guy Clark Guy Clark
Train on the Island Traditional Tim O’Brien, Bruce Molsky
Train to Charleston Dwayne Brooke The Woodshedders
Train, Train “Shorty” Medlocke Blackfoot
The Train That Carried Jimmie Rodgers Home Greg Brown The Gordons, Iris Dement
This Train (Is Bound For Glory) Traditional Indigo Girls, Wayfaring Strangers
Trouble In Mind Richard M. Jones Johnny Cash
The Train That Carried My Girl From Town Traditional Doc Watson
Wabash Cannonball Traditional Carter Family, Roy Acuff
Waiting for a Train Jimmie Rodgers Jimmie Rodgers, Dickey Betts
Wheels Patrick McDougal Dan Tyminski “Wheels”
White Pass Railroad Laurence Baer Del McCoury Band “Family Circle”
Who’s Been Talking Howlin’ Wolf Howlin’ Wolf, Tom Waits
Wreck of the Old ’97 Traditional Mac Wiseman, Woody Guthrie
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About Mike Ward

Connecting the digital to the local - website management, social media and event promotion.
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4 Responses to I Hear That Train A Comin’: Favorite Railroad Songs

  1. Anson Burtch says:

    One of my new favorite train songs is “The Carolinian” by Chatham County Line off of their “IV” album. A fantastic, heartbreaking story that takes place on a train.

    • Mike Ward says:

      Thanks, Anson – I have hear of that group a lot, but haven’t looked into them, but now I will have to check them out. Also I got the Decemberists after looking into them because of one of your Tweets, so thanks for that as well.

  2. Kevin says:

    Train Kept A’Rollin by Tiny Bradshaw, also done by Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith! 🙂

  3. Bobbie Brannum says:

    i like riding train’s & i like train song’s love traveling

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