All about trains run for the President of the United States (POTUS)
FDR in Washington in 1934 from National Archives
Trains Run For The President Of The United States (POTUS)
I don’t know if the Baltimore & Ohio dispatcher in 1833 used the term “POTUS” when Andrew Jackson rode from Ellicott’s Mills to Baltimore. It stands for “President Of The United States” and train dispatchers since then used it right up to the space age. Our highest elected executives were avid train riders for over one hundred years. Their trips meant special crews, pilot trains, guarded bridges, the best grade of coal, spiked switches and rights over all other trains.
Our railroadingest President was Franklin D. Roosevelt. (our featured image) Many of his miles were in a 285,000 pound car named “Ferdinand Magellan”. It even had bulletproof glass. On October 21 and 22 of 1936, a typical movement was made over the New Haven. The consist was a Pullman club car with a ramp, a 10-1-2 Pullman sleeper, two 6-3 Pullman sleepers, a dining car and a private car. Leaving Washington at 10:59 PM, it departed Penn Station in New York at 4:00 AM. It reached New Rochelle Jct. at 4:33 and New Haven at 5:55. Arriving in Providence at 9 AM, a ramp was placed for the President to detrain. Remember, any Roosevelt movement had to consider the limited walking ability of the President.
The GE electric from Penn Station and the 4-8-2 R Class Mountain from New Haven to Providence were under the control of road foremen. An 0300-type motor at Stamford and an I-4 Pacific at New Haven were crewed and held for backup. Another Pacific went from Cedar Hill (New Haven) to Stamford for emergency use if the power failed.
Equipment was operated deadhead to Worcester for a 11:59 PM boarding. Arrival in Hartford was 9:25 AM. The movement was completed for the New Haven when the train was turned over to the Pennsylvania at 5:50 PM.
Special instructions were issued so that no passenger, freight or switching moves would interfere with the movement of the special. Freights had to clear 30 minutes in advance and be at a standstill while the special passed. This was regardless of direction or track. If passing on adjoining tracks, conductors were instructed to insure against loose doors and other possible projections. Division engineers had to arrange for inspection of tracks, interlockings and drawbridges. Drawbridges could not be opened within 30 minutes of arrival of the train. In addition, car inspectors rode the train, state police monitored grade crossings and platform access was limited. It must have been a nightmare for the operating personnel who still had to move all the regularly scheduled trains.
Funeral trains have played a role in American history. Lincoln’s took 13 days and 1,700 miles to journey from Washington to Springfield, IL. President Franklin D. Roosevelt died in Warm Springs GA, was taken to Washington, and then on to Hyde Park, NY. As with any Roosevelt move, the train had to be switched from Pennsylvania to New York Central at New York City. Usually this meant New Haven’s Hell Gate route to New Rochelle Jct. then the New Haven to the Central’s Harlem Division and finally the Hudson Division via Mott Haven.
Eisenhower once said his boyhood idol was a locomotive engineer. It was only fitting that his 1969 final journey from Washington to Abilene, Kansas be by rail. The Baltimore & Ohio coordinated the almost 1400 mile/almost 36 hour movement. The funeral train was headed by 3 E8’s and consisted of ten cars. There were four sleepers, a coach, a lounge, a diner, a baggage car, and two business cars – C&O #15 for Army and rail personnel and AT&SF “Sante Fe”. Power St. Louis to Kansas City was three N&W Geeps which changed to Union Pacific E’s in Kansas City. A three-car pilot train preceded the funeral train. Its power could have been used in the advent of a locomotive failure.
Although he wasn’t a President, but only a candidate, Senator Robert Kennedy had a 21-car funeral train in 1968. It departed Penn Station in New York with two GG-1’s, the 4901 and 4903, newly painted in the Penn Central color scheme of an off-color black with white numerals and letters. Most of the coaches were glistening stainless steel with the old Pennsy color scheme of Tuscan red and gilt letters/numbers. The second to the last car was New York Central business car No. 30. The “Pennsylvania”, its name blacked out at the family’s request, brought up the rear. It bore the elevated casket of Senator Kennedy as it had also borne the remains of former President Hoover.
After President Garfield was shot in 1881, he requested to go to his summer home in New Jersey. Rail workers constructed special tracks to his beach house. He stayed there 13 days before he died.
When McKinley was shot in 1901, a specialist was sent from New Jersey to Buffalo via the Lackawanna. He never made it in time despite almost a mile a minute pace. His Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt, was rushed by train from North Creek, NY.
Lincoln was a railroad lawyer for the Rock Island and the Illinois Central. He is still famous in legal circles for establishing the rights of railroads to bridge navigable rivers. During his Presidency, he signed the legislation implementing the transcontinental railroad.
Truman was once a Sante Fe timekeeper and Eisenhower’s father was on the Katy payroll.
Nixon was a rail romantic, not a railfan. He grew up around the railroad and had pleasant memories. His youth in Yorba Linda was near the Pacific Electric with its red trolleys. When he moved to Whittier, he was near the Los Angeles & Salt Lake. His father was a boomer trolley motorman.
Later he traveled many miles in campaigns and his Western White House at San Clemente was on the Sante Fe’s Los Angeles – San Diego main line.
Shown below are some of the highlights of some of his campaigns and some of the spots in the northeast he visited:
1952 campaign (19 days on train – 5 trips)
Most trips except those on the Southern Pacific were hauled by diesel. The Northern Pacific had planned to use the former Timkin roller-bearing engine except that portion of the trip was cancelled so he could make his “Checkers” speech.
New Haven hauled Nixon from New York to Berlin CT then to Springfield. The B&M took him to Boston. Next, the New Haven and the Pennsylvania took him overnight to Ohio.
He traveled from Harrisburg PA to Wilkes-Barre, then over the Lehigh Valley to Elmira where the Erie picked him up for a swing through the Southern-tier.
On another trip, he went from Cleveland to Ithaca then to Geneva and on to Utica over the New York Central. (He flew from Utica to New York City).
1956 campaign (7 days on train – 2 trips)
One trip was from New York to Scranton on the DL&W.
1960 campaign (one train – five days)
Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Illinois
1962 gubernatorial campaign
Nixon used a Southern Pacific office car.
1968 campaign (one day – one trip)
In addition, he rode a Metroliner from Washington to a concert in Philadelphia in 1970. He did not use a train in 1972.
Unfortunately, some of his programs were anti-rail. In the 1970’s, he stated that he wanted fleets of busses to have priority in Federal spending and hinted that long-term rapid rail projects might find financing tight. The 1974 energy crisis modified his thinking somewhat and he asked Congress to spend $1.3 billion to upgrade mass transit systems.
The consist of a campaign train approached 18 to 20 cars. An open observation car would, of course, bring up the rear. Ahead of this would be two staff cars, a VIP car, then a couple of diners. Ahead of these would be more staff cars then press cars. Pullmans would be spread throughout the train. Towards the end of Nixon’s campaigns, equipment got harder and harder to secure as the railroads backed out of the passenger business.
On October 23, 1990, President George Bush visited the Connecticut cities of Waterbury and Stamford to campaign for fellow Republicans. He flew from Washington to Westchester County Airport in White Plains, New York. He then proceeded by motorcade to Waterbury then on to Stamford.
His visit closed parts of three Interstate highways and disrupted thousands of commuters and other travelers. Even assuming he could not be coaxed into “flying” AMTRAK from Washington, Metro-North could have provided a better visit as far as Connecticut residents were concerned.
First, lets put together a train of “Presidential” stature. Metro-North could start with a matched pair of FL-9’s in New Haven Railroad colors. This publicly owned road already owns a pair of luxury cars: MN1 and MN2 which were once Erie-Lackawanna (originally Lackawanna “Phoebe Snow”) long distance light weight cars now used as business cars. An appeal to private car owners, especially those who vote Republican, would bring forth enough cars to hold staff, press and local politicians. In Essex, the Valley Railroad has a diner worthy of serving Presidential meals. Without affecting evening peak schedules, Metro-North would be able to also field the mandatory pilot train.
New Rochelle is convenient to Westchester County Airport and also offers an extra platform to load a train from without disrupting normal service. The main line is 4-track from New Rochelle to Stamford (16 miles) and on to Devon (28 miles – just beyond Bridgeport). This section of the roadway is limited access, the track is all first class welded rail, and the signaling all computer controlled. From Devon to Waterbury (27 miles) is single track. It is a “dark” road (travel governed by train order) and has several grade crossings in the Naugatuck Valley, but it would certainly require less state troopers to guard grade crossings than to close an Interstate highway. The whole operation could be accomplished with little disruption to commuters.
Connecticut is no stranger to Presidential trains. During the 1920’s, Connecticut rails saw many trips by President Calvin Coolidge. As well as the usual steps in moving a President, arrangements were made to slow down the train during meals in order that the Presidential party might eat in comfort.
This idea leads on to other possibilities. Could the newly-elected Governor of Connecticut, Lowell Weicker, use the rails to his advantage? He would prefer to live in his farm in Greenwich rather than the executive mansion in Hartford. In addition, he still has children in school in Washington. A dedicated train would be an answer to his problem. Perhaps a governor should not be tied down to one location anyway, but instead operate out of a mobile “command post” like a train. Excellent trackage exists between Greenwich and the capitol in Hartford (82 miles). The capitol building is within walking distance of the train station. In addition, all the major cities in the state are reachable by rail. Assuming again Weicker could not be convinced to “fly” to Washington on AMTRAK, the state really does need the proposed rail link to Bradley Airport in Hartford. Maybe he could make that happen.
Many famous leaders have depended on rail for their transportation. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a leading example. As well as trips home to Hyde Park, NY and to the resort at Warm Springs, GA, he toured defense plants during World War II. He traveled on a special car built by the Association of American Railroads and sold to the White House for $1.00. It had two elevators to lift his wheelchair, an office, lounge, bedroom and galley. The floor was 12″ reinforced concrete; the windows bulletproof, and the armor plated sides were designed to resist an artillery shell. There was even an escape hatch from a submarine in case the car was under water. Engineers said pulling it was like a fishing line with a lead sinker on the end.
In earlier years, the railroads had demanded 125 first-class tickets to move a presidential special. Calvin Coolidge complained about this and refused to pay. Since it was awkward to have him riding in a regular Pullman car, the railroads reluctantly settled to just charge each passenger, including Coolidge, one first-class Pullman fare and provide the special train. Roosevelt was not the greatest with tips for his porter. He usually gave the porter $5.00 for a trip to Hyde Park. One porter used seniority to get reassigned to the press car where he usually got forty to fifty dollars instead.
In wartime, many of Roosevelt’s trips began from an obscure railroad siding on the spur line running under Fourteenth Street. This underground siding went into the basement of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and allowed shipments of newly printed money. A typical Roosevelt train included an oversize baggage car once owned by the Barnum & Bailey Circus. It held two sedans and two convertibles for motorcades. The next car held communications gear. It was followed by a Pullman for the radio operators and railroad staff. Next came a roomette car for the press, a club car, diner and roomette for the Secret Service.
Sometimes the POTUS train was for the First Lady. Then it become FLOTUS!
In 1970, Pat Nixon`s trip started at Chicago`s LaSalle St. station and took her via Rock Island tracks through Joliet to “Minooka” where the special train moved on to the EJ&E Ill River line en route to Dresden & Goose Lake. Mrs Nixon rode most of the trip in EJ&E parlor car #101 the last car in the train. The train was powered by two Rock Island diesels# 648 was one. The special included 4 RI cars and EJ&E coaches 101 and 103.
She rode the train to Collins road where she got off and was taken by motorcade to O`Hare.
Probably the most-watched funeral train was not that of a POTUS, but instead an “almost-president”: ROBERT F. KENNEDY
The train ran during the “twilight of American rail travel” and was put together by a “down-at-the-heels” railroad called Penn Central, BUT IT WAS A STATELY TRAIN!
|The Kennedy funeral train was hauled by two of the notable ex-Pennsylvania Railroad “GG-1” electric locomotives. These classic machines were probably the most notable electric locomotives ever produced. Designer (and artist) Raymond Loewy knew how to make a machine look purposeful and powerful. This is most evident in his locomotive designs for the Pennsylvania Railroad, GG-1 in 1936. These locomotives were in regular service for just under 50 years, doing everything from first-class high-speed (90-100 mph in the 1930s) service to heavy-end freight business. Shown below is the consist of this historic train:|
|GG-1 locomotive||4901||Painted black, lettered Penn Central|
|GG-1 locomotive||4903||Painted black, lettered Penn Central|
|Baggage car, type B-60b||7607||Typical ” head end equipment”|
|Diner type D-78||4484|
|Twin unit streamlined diner||4609||Paired with 4608|
|Twin unit streamlined diner||4608||Paired with 4609|
| Parlor car
“Matthias W. Baldwin”
|7146||7 drawing rooms|
|Business car||20||Ex New York Central|
| Business Car
|120||Ex Pennsylvania Railroad|
|Protection power following as light engines|
|Penn Central smooth side sleeper||unknown|
|Point series 14-4||unknown||New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad|
|Point series 14-4||unknown||New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad|
Excerpt from “Robert Kennedy: His Life” by Evan Thomas
These emotional photographs, many never seen before, document the funeral procession as it traveled from New York City to Washington, D.C. in June 1968.
Robert F. Kennedy Links– Legacy/Photos and Video
I watched and waited for the train just west of Newark on that important day. I will definitely attest it was a slow-moving train. The crowds were a lot bigger than anybody had anticipated. The journey was so slow that they had to delay the internment ceremony at Arlington.
There was no noise to confirm (with an electric locomotive), but passing me it seemed the engineer would just nudge his power controller for a few seconds, then continue to coast.
Unfortunately, my pictures of the event did not survive until the day of the scanner.
All of us watching this event felt something in America died with Bobby.
POTUS on the New Haven
MSNBC’s website had an artical about a Metro-North “escape train” for President Bush in the event of a terrorist attack. The train was stored on unused tracks in GCT with an isolated, private entrance. In Grand Central, there was a freight elevator in the area of tracks 63 and 64 which are underneath the Waldorf. That elevator would accomodate a large number of people and also a wheel chair or whatever was needed.
Through the presidencies of Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower, the heavyweight car Ferdinand Magellan was used for Presidential travel. The car is now part of the Gold Coast Railroad Museum in Florida. It appears this was the only U.S. Govermment car used as such – leading one to believe that any other cars used in a POTUS move were supplied by the railroads or the Pullman Company. Since virtually all sleepers at the time of Roosevelt were operated by Pullman, “standard” sleepers would have been provided for accompanying staff and support personnel. Lettering on the letterboard would have only said “PULLMAN” with no other (for security reasons) special identification on the cars (except maybe a Presidential seal on the veranda of the open-ended observation car, Ferdinand Magellan).
If the New Haven provided any cars, they would have most likely have been baggage cars (see previous comment about sleeping cars). Since Presidential moves generally originated out of Washington, D.C., any railroad-provided cars would most likely have been home road cars (i.e., B&O for a trip heading out over the B&O, PRR for a trip heading out over the PRR, etc.). However, since Presidential security was involved, one couldn’t put it past the Secret Service from ordering a B&O baggage car even though the train was heading south on the Southern.
The unused tracks with special entrance sure sounds like the Waldorf Astoria tracks. The New Haven’s portion of involvement with a POTUS move would have been between Penn. Station and Grand Central Terminal, possibly using the wye that once existed at New Rochelle Junction, or running over the Port Morris Branch. Turning the cars at Grand Central would have involved using the loop tracks.
In “Trackside Along the New Haven 1950-1956” Arthur Mitchell had some photos of a POTUS train which carried Harry S. Truman to the USCG Academy for the Commencement speech in 1952. In the two photos of an 8+ car train. The first two cars were lettered PULLMAN and the fourth car back was a baggage car. The locomotives were given a set of white flags for an “Extra Move”, and there appear to be at least 4 people in the cab.
The last Official Trip of a POTUS special in Connecticut was in 1954 when Mrs. Eisenhower went from Washington to Groton to christen the Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear submarine.
(Comments collected from the New Haven RR Forum)
FDR Funeral Train at New Rochelle
A recent book about the Roosevelt Funeral train has created quite a lot of interest in how the train was routed between the New Haven’s Hell Gate route from Pennsylvania Station and the New York Central’s Hudson Division. The book says it ran east to New Rochelle and then reversed direction there, running via Woodlawn to Mott Haven.
This interested Tommy Meehan in reading over stories about the FDR funeral train in NY City newspaper archives. He noted that people turned out along the right-of-way (as they did with the RFK funeral train in my time) to pay their final respects. He wondered, if the train did halt in New Rochelle to change engines, might not the local paper have published some details? New Rochelle is a small suburban city and had it’s own local daily newspaper for many years.
In the New Rochelle Standard Star edition of April 15, 1945 there was a short story about the train being due in New Rochelle that morning. There was no time given but the article stated the train would arrive at Pennsylvania Station at 4:15 AM and depart 20 minutes later, headed for the Hell Gate Bridge. Arrival in Hyde Park was scheduled for 8:40 AM.
The following day’s paper had a detailed story reporting the scene at New Rochelle. First the pilot train had come through, with mostly military people on board. Then a train bearing members of Congress and other mourners. Then the funeral train bearing Roosevelt’s body arrived a few minutes before six. The Star described 300 people waiting on the station platform “bare-headed and in hushed silence in the grey light of dawn” as the train slowly passed. Other people waited along the tracks and at various other vantage points. After passing the station the train pulled up to the small local freight yard a short distance east to “change engines.” While it was stopped New Rochelle Mayor Stanley Church, accompanied by the local police chief, entered the freight yard to present a floral wreath. It was taken by a porter and placed near the casket in the rear car, which would be “the first car behind the locomotive when the train left for Mott Haven.”
“The New Haven electric locomotive which pulled the train out of New Rochelle was draped in black, with mourning streamers across the windows of the cab.”
What was also interesting, was the information on the number of times Roosevelt traveled through New Rochelle when headed for Hyde Park while President. Changing engines in the freight yard was the normal procedure, the Star reported, and as they had done since 1933, New Rochelle police were stationed at the passenger station, in the freight yard, at each bridge and along the right-of-way.
The Star quoted New Rochelle police as saying the funeral train marked the 79th time they had turned out to guard a POTUS train since FDR had taken office, just over twelve years earlier.
The book is “FDR’s Funeral Train” by Robert Klara.
I think I have discovered the longest POTUS (Presidential train trip).
Wilson took a 1919 trip around the US to push the League of Nations.
It was a seven car train.
When the schedule had to be changed in Wichita, Kansas;
it only took two hours to reroute them back to Washington, DC.
In the meantime, the train “circled” Wichita.
I guess we have to remember that in 1919 the railroads were still “nationalized” (USRA).
While a lot of FDR’s trips from Washington to his home in Hyde Park, New York, went through New York City and up the east side of the Hudson, some where on the west side.
The normal routing during the war was B&O to Jersey City (Claremont Jct.), then New York Central’s West Shore (via National Docks RR) to Highland, NY, opposite Poughkeepsie, where autos would take him to Hyde Park.
One FDR special ran from Washington to Poughkeepsie via PRR-Bel Del branch- Lehigh & Hudson River to the New Haven. The express purpose was to stop at Allamuchy, NJ, on the L&HR. Roosevelt debarked at Highland, NY, on the west side of the Hudson from Poughkeepsie; the Secret Service wasn’t enthusiastic over taking him across the Poughkeepsie bridge. The train then did proceed over the bridge.
A Sad Train Order (New York Central)
There is no evidence the incumbant President (GW Bush in 2007) has any intention of riding a train. But what if he did? What would be different today than when other President’s rode trains?
Imagine the security that’d be needed to protect every inch of track the presidential train would roll on. Airports are easier to secure. There have been no railroad cars reserved strictly for presidential use since the Eisenhower era, but Presidents do occasionally travel by rail, especially during campaign season. One had a very embarrassing incident – forgot to stop at a town in Kansas! These days, I wouldn’t want to be seen camera in hand by the pilot train. You’d be in the back of a patrol car before the POTUS arrived on the scene.
Obama traces Lincoln’s path to his Inauguration
January 17, 2009 President Elect Obama takes an Amtrak charter train from Philadelphia to Washington. He stops in Delaware to pick up Joe Biden, the Vice President Elect.
His train was led by P42s 44 and 120. How symbolic the lead is 44! I would not put it past someone in Amtrak to track down that unit and have it for the train 44 is for the 44Th President.. (we knew that) 120 is January 20…. Inauguration date Wow…If that is the case, then MAJOR kudos to the folks responsible. Very cool. Wonder if the media will pick up on it…
Obama rode in a private car, Georgia 300, which was hooked on the end of several Amfleet cars holding guests and media.
Trailing train has engines 71 and 77 with Amtrak business car Beech Grove.
The Indiana Historical Society, has a great picture from 1932 of Franklin D. Roosevelt at the New York Central Station, Terre Haute, Indiana.
FDR is standing on the platform of the last railroad car on the tracks. A crowd has gathered around the train and a man on a ladder is holding a camera. Several cars are parked around the train station.
In another picture, President Truman waves to the crowd from a platform at the back of a train. The presidential seal is centered on the railroad car. Three loud speakers are mounted on top of the car.
Here’s Harry Truman at the Army Navy football game.
A friend sent me picture, but omitted details. By the overhead wires it looks like Philadelphia.