I had a job, I had a girl
I had something going, mister, in this world
I got laid off down at the lumber yard
Our love went bad, times got hard
Now I work down at the carwash
Where all it ever does is rain
Don't you feel like you're a rider
On a downbound train

She just said, "Joe, I gotta go
We had it once, we ain't got it anymore"
She packed her bags left me behind
She bought a ticket on the Central Line
Nights as I sleep, I hear that whistle whining
I feel her kiss in the misty rain
And I feel like I'm a rider on a downbound train

Last night I heard your voice
You were crying, crying, you were so alone
You said your love had never died
You were waiting for me at home
Put on my jacket, I ran through the woods
I ran till I thought my chest would explode
There in the clearing, beyond the highway
In the moonlight, our wedding house shone

I rushed through the yard, I burst through the front door
My head pounding hard, up the stairs I climbed
The room was dark, our bed was empty
Then I heard that long whistle whine
And I dropped to my knees, hung my head and cried

Now I swing a sledge hammer on a railroad gang
Knocking down them cross ties, working in the rain
Now don't it feel like you're a rider on a downbound train.

Lyrics submitted by Demau Senae

Downbound Train song meanings
Add your thoughts


sort form View by:
  • +6
    General CommentA great representation of hard times in working class America. Struggling to stay afloat in a troubled economy and a relationship that's on the rocks, and eventually ends, our protagonist holds 3 different jobs during the course of this song. There are 3 mentions of "the rain" as well.

    The second verse, I believe, is a dream sequence which crashes into the reality that his love has left when he hears the "long whistle whine".

    I find it particularly depressing that in the end he's working on the very same railroad that carried his love out of his life.
    DailyBuzzon March 20, 2008   Link
  • +3
    General CommentOne of my favorite Bruce songs, makes me sad everytime. "Then I heard that long whistle whine and I dropped to my knees, hung my head and cried." To me that is the most powerful line in the song.
    Lynnmetcalfe23on January 27, 2005   Link
  • +2
    General Commentyeah the long whistle bit is amazing song writing, fits the tune perfectly, Springsteen is one of the best writers when it comes to expressing emotion! I always thought the whistle was something to do with being called back to work: i saw it as another song written about the contrast of work / love, and certainly one of the best.
    He loses his love and is left with just his depressing job. The line about the long whistle sums it up perfectly; you can tell he's writing about personal experience.
    dan105on July 25, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI saw the whistle as reality intruding on his dream that his girl was back. And since he 'feels like [he's] a rider on a downbound train', reality is a sort of recurring, living nightmare. So his dream is shattered by the nightmare of his real life.
    atroposon August 16, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General CommentWhat I like about Springsteen is he pulls no punches in his songs. He knows that not everyone leads a happy life. People fall out of love, people lose their jobs, people go to jail; bad things do happen and usually to otherwise decent people. Here he explores what happens to a couple to whom life had dealt a bad hand in the poker game of life. Depressing sure, true to life, ABSOLUTELY. If you love Springsteen, you love him because he DOES sing songs like these. A great song from the one of the best albums of the 80's.
    rmcd0494on March 21, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General Comment"Then I heard that long whistle whine. And I dropped to my knees, hung my head, and cried" could be a Johnny Cash reference to Folsom Prison Blues :"When i hear that whistle blowin I hang my head and cry."
    dontgetsentimentalon May 18, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General CommentIn regards to jhoin's interpretation referring to a chain gang, railroad workers who repair and maintain the track have long been known as "section gangs". Chain gangs are not used on railroad tracks as the tracks are owned by the railroads which are private companies.
    I think line the "Last night I heard her voice..." is speaking about a dream he had. Either that whole verse was a dream, or I think more likely he now lives somewhere else, had the dream of her telling him her "love had never died" and then he woke up and ran to where they had lived (their "wedding house"). Once he got there and went up to their room, he realized it had only been a dream, just as he heard the "long whistle whine". The whistle refers to a train horn. Many people, including the railroads themselves, still call them whistles as trains once used steam whistles.
    The downbound train analogy ties the whole theme together beautifully. Masterfully written, very well sung.
    dangeruson January 10, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General CommentOne of the more depressing songs Bruce ever wrote, and you can hear the pain in his voice on this one. Not surprising it was one of the few from BITUSA that wasn't a single.
    jnb987on December 29, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General Commenti love this song. one of my favorites of his as well. he is one of the best storytellers in music.
    buenoson June 10, 2005   Link
  • +1
    My OpinionI don't think it's about murder to be honest. Now that being said I'm not familiar with every Springsteen song, but when you listen to his voice, it just doesn't sound like the song of someone who had murdered.

    Like Nicolett said, it is such a beautiful song..

    "She just said, "Joe, I gotta go
    We had it once, we ain't got it anymore"
    She packed her bags left me behind
    She bought a ticket on the Central Line
    Nights as I sleep, I hear that whistle whining
    I feel her kiss in the misty rain
    And I feel like I'm a rider on a downbound train"

    The couple just can't cope, I would imagine him losing his job was a big game changer their relationship couldn't cope. That whistle he keeps hearing could be a memory of the last time he saw her.

    As for when he hears a voice, and runs home I think it's just his imagination. Sometimes when you want something so desperately to be true, your mind plays tricks on you.

    I think the title in itself is due to the the connection with trains on a track symbolizing your life's journey. "Downbound train" a negative connection, things are going "downhill".
    vintagegingon July 23, 2013   Link

Add your thoughts

Log in now to tell us what you think this song means.

Don’t have an account? Create an account with SongMeanings to post comments, submit lyrics, and more. It’s super easy, we promise!

Back to top