A funeral train is a train specially chartered in order to carry a coffin or coffins to a place of interment. Funeral trains today are often reserved for leaders and national heroes, as part of a state funeral, but in the past were sometimes the chief means of transporting coffins and mourners to graveyards. Funeral trains remain mostly steam locomotive hauled, due to the more romantic image of the steam train against more modern diesel or electric locomotives.
The first funeral train was run by The London Necropolis and National Mausoleum Company on 7 November 1854. Trains ran once a day from London Necropolis railway station to Brookwood Cemetery. The train carried not only the bodies of the dead, but the parties of mourners who had come to attend the funeral services. Different classes were available for both the living and the dead; a more expensive first class ticket would provide a more ornate coffin and greater care of the body during transit. The London Necropolis Railway was run on the tracks of the London and South Western Railway, who feared that regular passengers would shun locomotives which had previously hauled funeral trains, and therefore purchased an entirely new fleet exclusively for the Necropolis line. The public were initially reserved about the project; one bishop expressed fears that "It may sometimes happen that persons of opposite characters might be carried in the same conveyance. For instance, the body of some profligate spendthrift might be placed in a conveyance with the body of some respectable member of the church, which would shock the feelings of his friends". Others felt that the railway industry, which was less than 20 years old and still very much a new technology, was too hectic and loud, ill-befitting the sombre mourning associated with Christian funeral services.
The line ran daily – including Sundays – for almost 50 years until 1900, when the Sunday service was stopped and trains began to run on an "as needed basis". The railway remained in operation through the First World War and Second World War until 16 April 1941, when the London Necropolis station was bombed in the London Blitz. The station was never rebuilt and the line fell into disuse.
When West Norwood railway station opened two years later it was sited near to the gates of South London Metropolitan Cemetery, founded twenty years earlier; pall-bearers would unload the coffin from its "Funeral special" and simply carry it from the side entrance to the main gates. While this practice is long discontinued, the side gates still remain.
Following the 1947 nationalisation of Britain's railways, the use of the railway to transport coffins went into steep decline. New operating procedures required that coffins be carried in a separate carriage from other cargo; as regular services to Brookwood station used electric multiple unit trains which did not have goods vans, coffins for Brookwood had to be shipped to Woking and then carried by road for the last part of the journey, or a special train had to be chartered. The last railway funeral to be carried by British Rail anywhere was that of Lord Mountbatten in September 1979, and from 28 March 1988 British Rail formally ceased to carry coffins altogether. Since Mountbatten, the only railway funeral to be held in the United Kingdom has been that of former National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers General Secretary Jimmy Knapp, carried from London to Kilmarnock for burial in August 2001.
In Sydney, Australia, there was a similar service whereby the Rookwood Cemetery railway line served the Rookwood Cemetery complex. From 1867 until 1948 trains would depart Mortuary Station in Sydney City and travel the 15 km to Rookwood Cemetery.
In Helsinki, a 2 km long side track ran from the Malmi railroad station to the Malmi cemetery, which had its own railroad station. Coffins were transported to the cemetery from Harju morgue in Kallio. The track was decommissioned in 1954, and has been removed, but the Malmi cemetery station building still exists.
The Berlin Friedhofsbahn (Cemetery Line), opened in 1913, ran from Berlin-Wannsee station to Stahnsdorf's Forest Cemetery, about 20 kilometres southwest of Central Berlin. It was serviced by both funeral trains with passenger and hearse carriages, as well as regular S-Bahn (suburban rail) services. Funeral train service ended in 1952 and the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 spelled the end for cross-border S-Bahn services.
UK: All British monarchs since Queen Victoria have been carried by funeral trains; King Edward VII and King George VI were both taken to the Windsor & Eton Central railway station for the funeral procession. Most British Prime Ministers do not receive funeral trains. However, as part of his state funeral, Winston Churchill's coffin was carried by a special train hauled by the Southern Railway "Battle of Britain" class locomotive Winston Churchill from Waterloo to Handborough, the closest station both to St Martin's Church, Bladon, where Churchill was buried, and to Blenheim Palace.
Russia: In 1894, the body of Tsar Alexander III, was transported by train from Livadia Palace in the Crimea, back St. Petersburg, by way of Moscow. On January 23, 1924, body of Vladimir Lenin was carried by funeral train to Moscow Paveletskaya railway station. Later Museum of Lenin Funeral train was established in the rail terminal building. This is now the Museum of the Moscow Railway.
In the USA Presidents are also sometimes transported by train; Abraham Lincoln (April 1865), Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower were all given funeral trains as part of the procession. More recently, Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, an advocate of public transit and Amtrak, was transported from New Jersey to Washington on the North East Corridor following his death.
The last time a funeral train was used at a state funeral in Denmark was on 24 January 1972, when King Frederik IX of Denmark was taken from Christiansborg Palace Chapel via Copenhagen Central Station to Roskilde Cathedral.
John A. Macdonald's funeral train.
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