The Royal Train has been the mobile residence of the Sovereign for over 150 years.
The train is comprised of nine coaches that may easily be changed depending on who is using the train. The usual configuration is seven carriages. It is a rare occasion for all nine of the coaches to be used at once unless Her Majesty, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall are all travelling together. It is Prince Charles, though, who uses the train most often. The current nine claret saloons as they are called, have been riding the rails since 1977. Back then, fourteen saloons were available for use for all senior members of the Royal Family. As the 1990s approached and cutting costs were inevitable, the saloons were downsized to the nine in use today. Travel aboard the Royal Train is now only available to Her Majesty, The Duke of Edinburgh, The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall.
Her Majesty’s saloon contains a bedroom, bathroom and sitting room. The bedroom is decorated in soft pastel colours. There is a single bed complete with lace timed pillows containing Her Majesty’s cipher. Decorating is minimal with a few Scottish landscape paintings and prints of Royal Trains of the past.
The bathroom is fitted with a full-size bath. As the train chugs along through the country, the operators are keenly aware that at around 7:30 am the train must drop its speed in order to assure Her Majesty’s bath is not sloshing around during the ride.
Queen Victoria made history when she rode a train for the first time in 1842. Having liked the ride she did make it clear that she “would not eat nor go to the lavatory on board,” Robert Hardman reports in The Daily Mail. So what were known as “lavish refreshment buildings” were fashioned on the route to Scotland. Deciding she enjoyed the train, Queen Victoria later had the carriages become the Royal Train. To make travel a bit more convenient, Prince Albert had the initial train commode installed. When George V was King, he was the first individual to have a bath fitted on a train.
In the sitting room, there is a sofa, armchairs and a smaller table where breakfast is served to Her Majesty and Prince Phillip. The sitting room is also where Her Majesty will sit at her desk and go over what papers she needs to see in the infamous ‘red boxes’. As for privacy, each window has curtains and drapery that allow Her Majesty to see out, but no one may see in.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s saloon is similar to that of Her Majesty’s minus the colour scheme of course. His Royal Highness does have in his saloon, though, a small but fully electric kitchen. The Duke had the kitchen installed as he often travels alone and, therefore, does not need the entire train.
The sitting room has a sofa, chairs, an extendable table and desk. Prince Philip “uses the train as a mobile office,” Brian Hoey wrote in the Daily Mail. “The armchairs are comfortable but not of the deep ‘sink-down’ type because The Duke of Edinburgh’s visitors are usually there on official business, and he doesn’t want them to overstay their welcome,” Hoey continued.
During the war, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were touring war-ravaged England. In 1941, a full sized bath was part of a small upgrade. By the end of World War II, the Royal Train had travelled 63,000 miles.
Prince Philip’s saloon is modest in decoration. There are two pieces that stand out: a piece of rail and the Duke’s senior rail card. The Duke has a piece of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s (founder of the Great Western Railway) rail. It was given to His Royal Highness upon the 150th anniversary of the creation of the Great Western Railway. The railcard was presented to him when he qualified for the discount and is “a mock-up dated June 1987 and framed for display,” according to The Telegraph.
Dining on the train does not mean below standard food. Meals are prepared to the same quality of that of the Royal residences. Rail Gourmet’s run by Roger Williams for the past 21 years takes care of the trains dining needs. Having been on over 500 journeys, “We spend quite a bit of time in advance preparing for each journey and the staff are handpicked,” Williams told the Wiltshire Times in 2011. “The role is probably more relaxed than people would imagine as each journey is so planned.
Ken Moule, who has been on the train for over 20 years, is the Senior Railway Steward. In the same Wiltshire interview, Moule commented about breakfast for Her Majesty, “The Queen always enjoys the same breakfast when she is on board of scrambled eggs and bacon.” Moule continued that “The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh are woken at 7.30am with trays of Earl Grey tea for Her Majesty, with no sugar and coffee for him as he drinks tea only in the afternoon.”
As for tea, “If The Queen wants afternoon tea with toasted teacake or an aperitif (her favourite is one-third gin, two-thirds Dubonnet and lots of ice), if the Duke of Edinburgh wants a glass of Double Diamond beer, or kippers for breakfast, or the Prince of Wales asks for a Welsh rarebit made with his own organic cheese, the team will respond,” Hoey writes.
Night travels Her Majesty may be “offered light refreshments of smoked salmon, warm sausage rolls and chicken or egg sandwiches made with brown and white bread – all with the crusts removed,” according to Hoey.
If occasion does arise and a reception is scheduled, the Royal dining coach can be kitted out as if a State Banquet were to occur at Buckingham Palace, just in a more intimate setting.
According to Hoey there are “few extraordinary culinary demands, unlike some previous monarchs: Edward VII preferred to eat food that had been shot, caught or trapped on his own estates, while Queen Victoria believed it was ‘unnatural’ and harmful to the digestion to eat while on the move.”
The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall each has a saloon. Constructed from 1983-1985, they were previously used by His Royal Highness and Diana, Princess of Wales. Prince Charles loved planning and design and was, therefore, part of the planning for the Royal Train saloons.
Edward VII believed that the Royal Train “should be as much like the Royal yacht as possible,” Brian Hoey writes in his book The Royal Train. The train does have a resemblance to that of the Britannia.
“The similarities with Britannia are everywhere — from the plain furniture and antiquated telephones to the absence of double beds (if the Duchess of Cornwall is on board, she has her own saloon — complete with pink bathroom),” according to Robert Hardman. A telling statement, The Prince of Wales, has a photo of the much loved Britannia above his bed in his saloon.
The Royal Train is operated by the Network Rail and English, Welsh and Scottish Railway. As for the driver of the train, “There has never been a ‘Royal Train Driver’ but a hand-picked pool of around 150 very senior and experienced drivers. In theory, they take it in turn, but the same 50 or so names appear on the roster time and again. The Queen and other members of the Royal Family like to see familiar faces around them,” according to Hoey.
Planning for use of the train transpires a few months in advance since staff must be procured, and all the details from the train’s engine to the soup spoon must be inspected and attended to accordingly.
As the train travels, one may think it chugs through the entire night, not true. The train “stops in a secluded siding well away from the main line so that the Royal passengers can have an uninterrupted night’s sleep,” Hoey writes. Of course where these sidings are to be found are not known for obvious security reasons. The stops are chosen usually an hour away from final journey’s end. The stops afford the Royal passengers time to rise, dine and get ready for what the day’s programme entails. The arrival of the train is timed to a 5-10-second window for accuracy and as to not interrupt commuter rail service.
The Royal Train is housed in Wolverton, where part-time staff tends to its needs.
The question is, though, is the Royal Train headed in the same direction as Britannia in 1997? “It will certainly be a sad day when there is no longer a claret-coloured saloon carrying the head of state across the nation which invented the train in the first place,” Hardman commented. That certainly would prove another sad event. It does look as though it might be inevitable.