With a suite that boasts His and Hers beds and a private bathtub, and its own dining room, it’s possibly the Royals’ most well-equipped method of travel.
And tonight, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge board the Royal Train for the first time to begin a three-day, 1,250-mile tour of the UK.
Over ten stops in England, Scotland and Wales, the couple will thank frontline NHS workers, volunteers, care home staff, teachers and schoolchildren for all their hard work during the pandemic.
Kate and William also want to showcase the UK’s arts, heritage and music sector, so badly hit by the social restrictions, so they will attend performances over the three days to help bring Christmas cheer to the communities they visit.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (pictured) will board the Royal Train for the first time on Sunday night to begin a three-day, 1,250-mile tour of the UK
The couple will visit care homes, hospitals, food banks, a primary school and a university to meet small, socially-distanced groups of people to hear their stories.
The final stop for the Wills and Kate Express will be to see the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Camilla – the first time the six senior Royals will have gathered for a photograph this year.
Permission to travel on the nine-carriage train has to be granted by the Queen. She is the train’s prime passenger, using it to travel overnight to engagements in the north of England, Scotland or Wales.
The idea dates from 1842. Prince Albert persuaded a 23-year-old Queen Victoria to become the first Royal to travel by rail when she took a train from Slough, then the closest station to Windsor Castle, to London Paddington.
he Queen’s Messenger is coupled to the Royal Train as it sits in Liverpool Lime Street train station on December 1
Victoria saw travelling the country as her duty and thus a Royal Train was designed to look like a palace on wheels, with the carriages decorated in 23-carat gold paint and decked out in silks and satins.
Electric lights were added in the 1890s, as well as an on-board toilet, which Victoria refused to use, preferring to have the train stop for bathroom breaks every few hours.
In 1977, the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, a single set of Royal Train carriages was formed for the first time and has remained in service ever since – replacing the 1941 vehicles used by George VI.
The locomotives haul freight when not on Royal duty. William and Kate will sleep in single beds during their two nights aboard, and dine in a 12-seater supper car with a Formica table – a far cry from the grandeur of the Victorian era.
A bed is made in staff accommodations aboard the bio-fuel powered Royal Train
In the past, the Royal Train menu has comprised chilled minted pea soup, fillets of sole and crème caramel.
There are no showers in the suite, only a bath with a marker line to stop it being over-filled. Staff include a steward and footmen, while Kate’s hairdresser will also travel with them on this journey.
When the carriages are off-duty, as they are for much of the year, the train is kept in a siding at a secret location to ensure security.
Mile-for-mile, it’s the Royals’ most expensive form of transport, with accounts in September showing that it made only three outings in 2019-20.
Electric lights were added in the 1890s, as well as an on-board toilet, which Victoria refused to use, preferring to have the train stop for bathroom breaks every few hours
The other carriages include dining cars, a general purpose saloon for senior staff with sleeping quarters, a sleeping car for junior staff with bunk beds and a carriage for escort staff and maintenance workers
Heir to the throne Charles has his own lounge car with a bedroom, bathroom and study (pictured) with a small writing desk and a blue and white floral patterned sofa which matches the curtain fabric
Two of these were for Prince Charles, who ran up a £20,822 bill for a return journey from Kemble, near his Gloucestershire home, to Carlisle. At the time, a Palace aide said the train provided effective and efficient transport and reduced security costs.
It was once suggested that Charles had secreted the then Lady Diana Spencer on board for a night-time tryst in sidings in Wiltshire. The story was untrue and Diana said: ‘I’ve never been near the train, let alone in the middle of the night!’
The most prestigious job in British railways is that of Royal driver. Among their tasks is to stop the train door perfectly in line with the red carpet on the platform. Drivers also pride themselves on getting to any destination within 15 seconds of the given arrival time.
Travelling on the Royal Train is considered a significant honour afforded by the Queen.
When Her Majesty invited Meghan Markle to join her on an overnight journey less than a month after her marriage to Prince Harry, it was a way of publicly welcoming her into the Royal Family.
A Kensington Palace spokesman said: ‘The Duke and Duchess are very much looking forward to shining a spotlight on the incredible work done across the country throughout this difficult year and to sharing their gratitude for all those supporting their local communities. It is panto season after all, so expect some Christmas good tidings.’
How often is it used, who by and what for? Q&A on the Royal Train
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are setting off on a festive morale-boosting tour around the country on the Royal Train.
– The royals have their own train?
Yes. The present Royal Train came into service in 1977 to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, but the royal family have had their own dedicated train since Queen Victoria’s reign.
– What does it look like?
Its livery is a pristine, highly polished burgundy known as Royal Claret, emblazoned with royal crests, with black coach lining and grey roof.
It has nine carriages – but not all of them are always used.
– Is the inside very luxurious?
Surprisingly not. The royal train is more functional than palatial and its furnishings are outdated.
Royal aides once described it as being fitted with bathroom fixtures ‘you could find in Homebase or B&Q’ and the decor as ‘very G-Plan’ which was popular in the 1960s and 70s.
In 2002, Buckingham Palace officials allowed journalists a rare glimpse in an attempt to destroy the perception that it was as lavish as the Orient Express.
– Who uses it?
Normally only the most senior royals – the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh before he retired, and the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.
– Anyone else?
The corgis used to accompany the Queen – and also the Queen Mother – onboard for journeys to Sandringham or Balmoral.
There is also space for royal aides and servants.
– What is it used for?
For official engagements, and for longer journeys around the UK such as to Scotland or Norfolk, especially when the Queen’s children were young.
It allows the royals to travel overnight and arrive rested ready to carry out a full day of engagements.
The monarch toured Britain on the train for her Golden Jubilee in 2002.
– Does the Queen have her own carriage?
Yes. It’s a private 75ft long air-conditioned and electrically heated saloon carriage which contains a bedroom with a single bed, a sitting room, a desk for working on the go, dining quarters – and bathroom complete with a full-sized bath.
– What about the other carriages?
The Duke of Edinburgh has a saloon carriage of a similar design but with a kitchen, green curtains, matching chair cushions and a brown carpet.
Scottish landscapes and Victorian prints of earlier rail journeys hang in both saloons.
– And the Prince of Wales?
Heir to the throne Charles has his own lounge car with a bedroom, bathroom and study with a small writing desk and a blue and white floral patterned sofa which matches the curtain fabric.
The other carriages include dining cars, a general purpose saloon for senior staff with sleeping quarters, a sleeping car for junior staff with bunk beds and a carriage for escort staff and maintenance workers.
– What about food?
A royal chef usually joins the train, with menus meticulously planned.
– How often is the Royal Train used?
It depends on the royal diary.
Only three trips – two by the Prince of Wales and one by the Queen – were taken on the Royal Train in the 2019/2020 financial year, but the total cost was more than £63,000.
– How much?
The cost – met by the taxpayer – has long been controversial and the train was nearly scrapped in 2013 when it was feared the rolling stock would have to be replaced.
During the Golden Jubilee year of 2002, the train’s journeys cost £872,000.
Its service contract is also an additional £300,000 a year and it is maintained by the German firm DB Cargo UK.
– How much does it cost per mile?
It depends on the journey. In 2017, an £18,317 trip by Charles from London to Cwmbran cost, according to calculations by the PA news agency, £130.84 per mile.
A standard anytime rail ticket for the same journey at the time cost just £1.30 per mile.
– Can’t the royal family catch a normal train?
They sometimes do. The Queen usually travels First Class to Sandringham for her winter break.
– So why is there still a Royal Train?
Royal aides believe it offers the best option for safety, security, efficiency and minimum disruption to others.
The Queen also likes it. It is her preferred mode of transport for its privacy and convenience, and it removes the need for an exceptionally early start.
It often travels overnight so as to not to slow up other trains, plus accommodation does not need to be arranged for the royals, and, unlike helicopters, it can run in bad weather.
– Is this William and Kate’s first time on the royal train?
Yes for Kate, but not for William. It will be their first time on the train together.
As a child, William travelled on it to Balmoral, and on the day of his mother Diana, Princess of Wales’ funeral in 1997, William, Charles, Prince Harry and the Spencer family made the journey from London to the princess’s ancestral home Althorp by Royal Train for her burial.
In 2003, William also journeyed overnight on the train to Bangor with his father to carry out a day of engagements in north Wales ahead of his 21st birthday.
– Who else has used it?
The Duchess of Sussex accompanied the Queen to Cheshire on the royal train in 2018 for what was her first joint royal engagement with the monarch.
– Can I travel on the royal train?
No. It’s for royals only.
Dignitaries are sometimes allowed to use it. Cherie Blair hosted a trip on the train for the wives of the leaders of the G8 group of nations in 1998.
– What about the engine?
The royal train is pulled by one of two Class 67 locomotives – 67005 – The Queen’s Messenger and 67006 – Royal Sovereign, both decorated in royal claret livery.
They are run on environmentally friendly bio-fuel made from waste vegetable oil.
A third Class 67 – 67026 – Diamond Jubilee – which features silver livery, a union flag and a Diamond Jubilee logo was used during the 2012 celebrations.
– So it’s not pulled by a steam locomotive?
Only every now and then for special occasions.
– Weren’t there engines called Prince William and Prince Henry?
Prince William and Prince Henry – named after William and his brother Harry – were a pair of Royal Class 47 locomotives which used to pull the Royal Train, but they were retired in 2004.
– When was the first royal train introduced?
A dedicated carriage was built for the royal family in 1840, with the Dowager Queen Adelaide, the widow of William IV, becoming the first to ride in it.
– What about Queen Victoria?
Victorians believed that driving on fast trains could send you insane.
But Queen Victoria was finally persuaded to travel by rail in 1842 went on a 25-minute passage on the royal train from Slough to Paddington with Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who designed Great Western Railway, riding on the footplate.
– Was she converted to rail travel?
Yes. The 23-year-old wrote in her diary that the journey was ‘delightful and so quick’.
By 1869, she had commissioned a set of private carriages, decorated in luxurious blue silk and 23-carat gold like a palace on wheels.
– Have there been any controversial journeys?
In 2000, a royal bodyguard discharged his gun on the train while the Queen was sleeping. The bullet hole can still be seen on a table in the staff dining car.
In 1980, a front page story claimed that a young Lady Diana Spencer had been sneaked aboard the royal train at night to be with Charles, three months before their engagement.
Charles, Diana and her mother always insisted the tale was false.