The Pennsylvania Railroad GG1: Robert F. Kennedy's Funeral Train

On June 8, 1968, the 21 car funeral train of Robert F. Kennedy left New York City for Washington, DC. The train was led by GG1 number 4901 with number 4903 trailing, and ended with Penn Central open-platform business car number 120 carrying the body of the late Senator.

A three car pilot train pulled by GG1 number 4932 ran ahead of the funeral train and GG1s numbers 4900 and 4910 followed light as back-up motive power.

At Elizabeth, NJ, the crowd moved onto the tracks to get a view of the special train, just as "The Admiral", heading to New York City from Chicago, was rounding a curve. "The Admiral's" GG1 sounded its horn, but some of the people in the crowd did not clear the track in time and sadly two were killed and four seriously injured.

After the tragic accident the Penn Central ordered all train movement stopped until the special train passed. The funeral train arrived in Washington's Union Station four hours behind schedule and had caused disruption to the entire railroad.

James Milo has provided the following details of this incident.

On the day of the Robert F Kennedy (RFK) funeral, my brother, my wife and I went to the South Elizabeth Pennsylvania RR station to try and catch a glimpse of the funeral train. Armed with my 35mm and super 8 movie camera, I was fully equipped and ready to photograph the RFK train as it passed by. While we were waiting for the train, I noticed a northbound passenger train creeping slowly toward the South St. station. Being an avid rail fan, I couldn't pass up this photo opportunity. I quickly set up my super 8 and caught the whole train on film as it passed by. A short time later, I was able to capture both movie film and 35mm stills of the RFK funeral train. Having completed my photography mission, I went to the west parking area in Elizabeth so my wife could take some photos of me and my swollen jaw, from a tooth that was pulled the day before. At that time, my family and I were completely unaware of the fact that a fatal accident had just occurred at the main Elizabeth station.

I was horrified as I watched the evening news that night and learned of the tragic accident involving the northbound Admiral that I had just filmed. The next day I read the account of the accident in the newspaper. The Admiral was described as a "speeding train" which came through Elizabeth killing a number of people, who were standing on the tracks instead of the platform. As a railfan and having first-hand knowledge of how fast that train was moving, I felt the article unfairly cast blame on the Admiral and was upset to think that the newspaper account could jeopardize the engineer's job or even his life. I knew that the train was proceeding cautiously and I felt it was my responsibility to share what might be the only recorded visual account of the Admiral's movement just prior to the accident.

I contacted the Pennsylvania Railroad legal department to let them know that I possessed a movie account of the Admiral as it passed through South Elizabeth station on the day of the accident. I thought they might be interested in my film so they could try to establish the moving speed of the Admiral just prior to the scene of the accident. I was subsequently contacted by the railroad attorneys who were indeed eager to have my movie film. I arranged to meet them at the Newark train station where they offered me $50.00 for the use of the film. Since I was interested in establishing an accurate account of the incident, I agreed to let them borrow it.

The Pennsylvania Railroad attorneys did in fact use my film to establish the speed of the northbound train and came to an agreement to settle the ensuing legal actions resulting from this accident. The film was returned to me a couple of years later, after the Pennsylvania RR was reformed into the Penn Central Railroad. The accident that day was a truly horrible event but I always hoped that my account was able to offer the engineer some solace in light of this tragedy.


Much thanks to Richard Duley who has helped to provide a great deal of the information found on this page.
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Wes Barris