YouTube video/Southern Nash News

North Carolina’s abandoned circus trains are burning.

Several train cars the state bought but subsequently abandoned on tracks in Nash County woods were on fire Thursday morning, according to WRAL.

The Raleigh TV station said someone reported the fire near the old Masonite Plant in Spring Hope. It appeared at least four cars were on fire and badly damaged. Flames and smoke were still visible as firefighters worked to bring the fire under control, WRAL said.

The N.C. Department of Transportation bought the circus train about five years ago. Carolina Journal broke the train story in February 2020 after getting a tip about the train’s location. Few people at the time seemed to know it existed.

Markings on the train cars — deep into the woods and not easily visible from any road — indicate it’s part of “The Greatest Show on Earth.” There’s no locomotive. 

The cars, nine in all, sat on tracks about 4,000 feet from the town limits of Spring Hope. Ringling Bros. closed in 2017. 

At the time, NCDOT spokeswoman Katie Trout told CJ as part of a Strategic Transportation Initiative in 2017, NCDOT bought the nine rail cars for $383,000. The cars rest on state-owned track due to limited space at active rail facilities in Raleigh.

After buying the circus train, NCDOT applied for and was awarded a $77 million federal grant to purchase new rail cars.

“At this time, NCDOT is evaluating its rail fleet and will make recommendations on the department’s rail fleet future needs, including the disposition of nine rail cars purchased in 2017. The assessment should be complete by the end of this calendar year,” Trout told CJ in 2020.

Spring Hope Mayor Buddy Gwaltney said, at the time, the train had become the talk of the town, though he wasn’t sure why it was there.

“We haven’t seen any elephants or giraffes running around … monkeys swinging in the trees yet, but we’ve got our eyes open,” he joked.