Published: 21st october 2013
The Royal Train is a railway institution which attracts UK-wide interest. It has been based at Wolverton Works for 98 years but Royal rail travel in the UK started early in Queen Victoria’s reign in 1842. Rail travel quickly became a favourite for the Royal Family and their European relatives wherever they reigned and across what was The British Empire.
Until 50 years ago, the UK Royal train was a luxurious affair unlike todays train built in 1975/6 for the Silver Jubilee tour of 1977. Although the interior was designed by Sir Hugh Casson , it is a functional train with few luxurious trappings.
So when the recent appearance of Sir Alan Reid, Keeper of the Privy Purse, in front of The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee brought comments that the Royal Train only had maybe five to ten years life left, was he right?
The short answer is no. The train comprises of what are known as Mark 3 carriages built around 40 years ago. Despite what was said at Committee, these carriages have a minimum of 30 years economic service left in them.
For example, Mark 3carriages are currently operated by Chiltern Railways on their ‘Mainline’ branded London to Birmingham 100mph services and by Greater Anglia on their London to Norwich trains.
Other similar carriages are used Arriva Cross Country on services around the UK via Birmingham and by First Great Western at 125mph between London, Penzance and west Wales amongst other places. These are known as High Speed Trains (HST) and will continue to operate after the Great Western electrification is complete using the Hitachi electric trains about to be built near Shildon. This is because the Mark 3 carriages in the HSTs will continue to be used on trains away from electrified routes on services from London.
The Greater Anglia carriages are due to start arriving at Wolverton Works in the next month for overhaul which means they will be good for at least another decade, if not 15 years. Many regard these carriages as the best ever designed certainly in the UK, and probably the World.
So this means that as Wolverton based Royal Train is on the same site as where the Mark 3 carriages will be overhauled, the required skillsets will be on hand, yards away from the Royal Shed.
This was made very clear in parts of The National Press by Leo Coleman who is now 91 and lives within sight of Wolverton Works. He project managed the 1975/6 new Royal Train construction project and was interviewed by The Daily Telegraph as was Rail.co.uk’s Phil Marsh.
It is often said that the Royal Train is expensive to run. It depends if all direct costs are compared with all modes of travel. When the train is used, there is no need for road management delaying motorists or the need for a security detail.
The train is a safe haven for its passengers and is in constant communication with the Agencies. And if Royal travel is by air, then transport costs to and from the airport need to be included. When the Royal Train is used, it is a very low profile trip to the station!
For overnight travel, its saves Royalty time and provides a respite from public view and time to work on red boxes or to eat or to relax in an ambient familiar environment.
Rail.co.uk’s Phil Marsh was instructed to look into selling The Royal Train in November 1997 for Railtrack. To carry out a feasibility study, he had a private tour of the train, a very rare invitation, and built up a business case that was so obviously unsustainable, the idea was dropped. Unlike the Royal Yacht ‘Britannia’, the train was saved and discreet feedback from its passengers, suggest that it was the right decision!
A full description of what it is like on the Royal Train is contained in ‘The Full Works’, the official 175th anniversary book about Wolverton Works. The business case for selling The Royal Train is also outlined in it.
So far as is known, the only non-royal use the train has been used for was for a G8 meeting when partners of Heads of Government used it and for example, Hilary Clinton travelled on it with Cherie Blair.
Great secrecy often surrounds the train but around Wolverton there is a quiet pride as many locals have worked on the train in one way or another. After all, Royal carriages have been based there for over 150 years and when ‘The Royal’ leaves or arrives back at The Works, no locals bat an eyelid!
Three years ago inside the Royal Train shed, there was a Driving Van Trailer (DVT). This was to be used with a Class 67 locomotive to save using two locomotives on every train. This DVT was never converted so is still a potential cost saving measure. Chiltern Railways and Greater Anglia use this method of working so it is not untried!
And it’s a fact that none of them would wish to see it discontinued. Maybe this was why the new owners of Wolverton Works Knorr-Bremse were filming a promotional film of The Royal Train earlier this month behind Wolverton Works’ walls!