Discussion relating to the Penn Central, up until its 1976 inclusion in Conrail. Visit the Penn Central Railroad Historical Society for more information.

Moderator: JJMDiMunno

  by Otto Vondrak
I saw once a sample of a Train Order that was issued to all crews that on a certain day and at a certain time, all traffic in all directions would stop for one minute for a moment to honor the deceased President... (this was a different day than the actual funeral train). Has anyone seen these train orders? Can someone help me with the wording?

How were the JFK and RFK trains handled by Penn Central? Was all traffic stopped on the railroad in advance of these trains?

I am planning a tribute to a fallen colleague and would like to present a similar gesture (on our model railroad)... thanks in advance!


  by 8222
I may be wrong, but I don't believe the RRs were involved with the JFK funeral. The body was flown from Dallas to DC and remained there.

With respect to RFK, PC participated in moving the body in the NE corridor - I don't recall whether it was to DC from NY(?) or the other way around. The funeral train power was a pair of GG1's and a second set of light GG1's preceded the train.

Again, this is from memory. Your best bet is to get a hold of an old Trains mag from 68.

  by Otto Vondrak
Thanks for the info. I guess my question is how the railroads would handle a day of mourning or a moment of silence separate from an actual funeral train event.

  by lbagg91833

  by Otto Vondrak
Ah HA. Thank you, LAB. That is exactly what I was looking for!


  by Dieter

1963; JFK's body was flown directly from Dallas to Washington, then by ambulance to Walter Reed Hospital/White House/Capitol Rotunda/Arlington. From the White House to the Capitol to Arlington, he was on a horsedrawn wagon. JFK's body was never on a train.

In respect to the RFK train in 1968, here's a tidbit you will enjoy chewing on......

When RFK's casket went from St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan to Pennsylvania Station, it was supposed to be a quick trip, loading his body into an Observation Car and taking off for Washington. Like many things in life, it wasn't that easy for the Kennedy family, nor Penn Central folks on that sad day....

Once they got the casket to the train, with TV cameras rolling, they discovered they could NOT get the casket through the side door and make the turn through the vestibule. Naturally, they then tried to take it through the rear door, and the casket was too wide for that.

Next, it was suggested to turn the casket on it's SIDE to fit through the end door over the rear platform, but with the whole world watching live on television, nobody was going to turn RFK on his side like a board or a piece of furniture, to fit him on the train.

A low grade of panic ensued.... What the bloody hell were they going to do?

An idea came up to put him in the Baggage Car and get going. I don't remember how that went over but somebody pointed out that this deceased "Hero" could not be handled like a piece of freight. Thousands had already gathered trackside along the entire route to pay their respects, and the family wanted the public to be able to see the flag-draped coffin through the window of the Observation Car. Putting RFK in the Baggage Car with the side door open for viewing was out of the question.

A supervisor came up with the most delicate and correct solution for the situation; remove a side window in the car, and pass the casket through to it's pedestal. Great. Now the problem was it being a weekend, and finding the right workman (there was a Union issue as well) to do the job. Once they found the right guy(s) for the job, the state of relief was short lived. The man to do the job said he knew how to remove a window, but had to disappear to find the right tools to do the job...........

The entire saga was captured on live, uninterrupted television with multiple Anchormen explaining to the audience what was happening as it unfolded. I remember watching several men finally showing up with tools, who feverishly removed the window, passing RFK through, and reinstalling the window. The train left at an unusually slow pace, to give people a good look as it past. Strange thing though, was it took nearly 40 minutes to reach Newark once it finally left the platform.

As memory serves me, this excruciating episode took WELL OVER TWO HOURS. I believe the workman and his tools were assigned to go to Washington with the train, so that the window could be quickly removed on the other end, and no more time would be lost in a repeat performance. If that man is still alive, it would be an interesting interview to document his side of the story.

Given this information, you can bet that the corridor and beyond became snarled up with the delay. There's something to research as well.

Sidetrack thought; I've never seen any attempt at modelling the RFK Funeral Train, even just the Observation Car used. The car was probably a Pennsylvania, still in Tuscan as I recall, and I recall seeing mixed Pennsylvania, Penn Central and New Haven coaches in the consist. The train was jammed with the press, the family rode in the Obs. What was the Observation car and where is it today?

Another unfortunate event during that trip was a man in Philadelphia or that area in Pennsylvania, was electrocuted as the train passed. He climbed up on a box car on an adjacent track for a better view, and made contact with the catenary.

I hope this info helps you. A final question for anyone who might know - what was the total time of delayed arrival between the window debacle, and reduced speed for the public? As I recall, they finally buried RFK at twilight, if not in the dark.


  by JimBoylan
Obs. was PRR's Pennsylvania 120, later owned by George Pinns when a passenger climbed on the roof in Penn Station and touched the overhead; now owned very nicely by member Bennett Levin.
The crowd at Elizabeth, N.J. rushed onto the tracks just before a Northbound GG-1 came at normal speed. After that, news reports said that PRR ordered all their trains South of the Funeral Train to stop and stay until it passed.

  by Jtgshu
I thought I remembered reading somewhere that the blowing of one long horn while coming into a station is a direct result of the RFK Funeral Train, and the incident in Elizabeth, NJ????????

Also, wasn't someone struck and killed by that G heading east at track speed in Elizabeth?
  by b&m617
IIrc, one more item: sometime during the Funeral train trip a bunch of observers had gathered on the opposite track to watch and were run over by a train running in the opposite direction..I remember seeing a pic of the GG1 bearing down on these unsuspecting folks.....don't have any details...

Work safe

  by Dieter
Thanks for the picture and info regarding the Observation Car. I remembered it wasn't a heavyweight but that the Obs had a rear platform. Your picture cleared that fog from the mind.

Yes, as you all mention it, a LOT of people were killed that day, and the Kennedy family addressed that publicly with condolences. It really was amazing to follow that train all the way to Washington on live television.


  by Zeke
That afternoon my father drove us over to Monmouth Junction, N.J. to watch the funeral train pass. I recall seeing Jackie Kennedy peering out at the crowd as the train passed. When we returned home I remember watching CBS news and they showed a filmed report of a GG-1 bearing down on the eastbound Elizabeth, N.J. low level station platform and a crowd of people scrambling back from the tracks, mercifully the film stopped seconds from the impact. It still made you cringe, IIRC two people died and several more injured. Two years later I had hired out on the Penn Central and talked to some of the old heads who ran the train including Chet Millburn the NJ division chief road foreman who supervised the engine crew down to Washington. He told me Hubert Humphery thanked them all when he came up on the motors in D.C.
  by Boosie
The horrific sight of a GG1 about to plow into mourners at the Elizabeth station platform was captured on film:


Deeply disturbing. Two people lost their lives, and many more were probably injured. I think that immediately after that accident, Penn Central ordered all NE Corridor trains to stop until the funeral train passed.

In that article, retired Secret Service Agent Paul Levine vividly depicts what he witnessed at Elizabeth from onboard the RFK funeral train that day:
Ahead, some of the crowd push onto the tracks for a closer look. A northbound train suddenly speeds around a curve heading right at them. I wave and shout. Most scatter to safety. But a few freeze in their tracks like frightened deer an instant before the mass of steel grinds them into road kill. I’m thinking, “I didn’t see that.” There is an explosion of sound. Shrieks of horror over screeching steel. A blur of dirty brown metal. The indescribable smell of death.

Our train picks up speed. I turn away, dizzy, grab a wall for balance. Jimmy Breslin the columnist, who 23 years later will eulogize my son Keith, a New York City cop killed in the line of duty, stands drink in hand rocking with the train’s motion. He stares at me curiously. “People just got killed,” I mumble.

I turn to face a compartment full of passengers I’ve been assigned to protect. Shirley Maclaine deep in teary-eyed conversation with her seat-mate Roosevelt Grier the football player who had helped rip the gun from Sirhan Sirhan’s hand stops speaking. The two watch me. Behind her is Coretta Scott King dressed in widow’s black and lost in her own pain. Only minutes earlier we had received a message that her husband Martin Luther King’s killer was captured in England. She had not been told yet. Robert S. McNamara, Rafer Johnson, Everett Dirksen, John Lindsay, Charles Evers and about fifty others in command of everything from the Vietnam war and Congress to New York City and the NAACP—a Blue Book of public service of the dying 60s— stop talking and eye me curiously. I struggle for words. I am one of ten federal agents assigned to the “Kennedy Funeral Train” on Secret Service Detail—a glorified security guard. “Interaction with the protectees” was strictly forbidden.
I too was trackside for the funeral train passage in Trenton, N.J. on that hot afternoon, so long ago. I recall my father telling me that the woman in black waving from the rear of the train was Jackie Kennedy.

Photojournalist Paul Fusco rode the train that day, on assignment for a magazine. I highly recommend his Funeral Train, which captured so many powerful trackside images between New York and Washington, D.C. Here is a sampling of some of those photos along the corridor tracks:

Fusco writes:
Many of us in America believed that that President John F. Kennedy was nurturing a renewed belief in the concept of government as an enabler for all its citizens instead of an acquiescent handmaiden to the privileged and the powerful. Before he was able to instill that as a working principle in our society he was gunned down by an assassin. Five years later when Bobby rose to try to reestablish a government of hope, the hearts of Americans quickened and excitement flared. Then tragedy struck again.

The blow was monumental. Hope-on-the-rise had again been shattered and those in most need of hope crowded the tracks of Bobby's last train, stunned into disbelief, and watched that hope trapped in a coffin pass and disappear from their lives.

Writer Evan Thomas was also onboard that day:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/ph ... cerpt.html
On Saturday afternoon, June 8, Kennedy's body, like President Lincoln's 103 years before, was carried by a funeral train from New York to Washington. As they had for Lincoln, many thousands – perhaps, for RFK, a million people – lined the tracks. The coffin, on a bier close to the floor of the observation car, could not be seen by bystanders. So Kennedy's pallbearers lifted it up and placed it, a bit precariously, on chairs. Along the route of the train, Boy Scouts and firemen braced at attention; nuns, some wearing dark glasses, stood witness; housewives wept. Thousands and thousands of black people waited quietly in the heat, perhaps because they lived close to the tracks, but also because they had felt for Kennedy, and knew they would miss him.
I was too young then to appreciate what I had witnessed, but I now know that nothing has ever been the same since that tragic spring when Martin and Bobby fell. Coretta Scott King was on that train, and just two months earlier, upon learning of Martin's assasination, Bobby delivered one of the most powerful speeches in American political history on the evening of April 4, 1968. In words which may sound foreign to those of us numbed by today's debased political culture of cynicism, arrogance, greed, and cowardice, he said:
I have bad news for you, for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and killed tonight.

Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice for his fellow human beings, and he died because of that effort....

My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: "In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God." ...

Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of the world. ...
Oh Bobby, what might have been.... :(
  by ChiefTroll
Jtgshu wrote:I thought I remembered reading somewhere that the blowing of one long horn while coming into a station is a direct result of the RFK Funeral Train, and the incident in Elizabeth, NJ????????
No, Rule 14 m (one long blast approaching stations, junctions, railroad crossings at grade (not highway crossings) and mail cranes where mail is to be picked up) has been in the Standard Code for more than 100 years.
  by 3rdrail
In that article, retired Secret Service Agent Paul Levine vividly depicts what he witnessed at Elizabeth from onboard the RFK funeral train that day:


Fascinating account by retired Federal Narcotics Agent Michael Levine, assigned to a Secret Service detail. Thank you for bringing it to us Boosie.