Ageing Royal Train could be replaced next year

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The Independent Online

The Royal train could be scrapped and replaced with a state-of-the-art 140mph locomotive next year, the Queen's treasurer said.

Sir Michael Peat, the Keeper of the Privy Purse, said the existing vehicle would be heavily used by the Queen over the next 12 months to mark her Golden Jubilee – even though it is slow, costly and old-fashioned.

But there will then be a "serious study" of options ranging from cutting the service altogether to replacing the "formica and aluminium" train with an up-to-date model.

Sir Michael told the Commons Public Accounts Committee: "The train is very much justifiable this current year, but we will look at it again after the Jubilee. It is expensive. There is no complacency, and we want to take whatever measures are necessary."

He strongly defended the service as it enabled the royals to arrive on time in city centres when other forms of transport, such as helicopters, could be grounded by bad weather.

He praised its facilities for sleeping, dining, working and holding meetings. But he was at pains to stress the accommodation was surprisingly basic, describing the train as fitted out in "formica and aluminium, like first class in the 1960s and 1970s".

However, Sir Michael admitted that attempts to attract more outside use of the train had failed. "The future of the royal train, if it is going to be economic, does depend on more private use of it," he said.

Asked if one option was to lease a high-speed train from a private operator such as Virgin, he replied: "These are the sort of issues we want to consider after the Jubilee year."

Since the royal household took over responsibility for royal travel arrangements in 1997, the annual cost of the train had fallen from £1.9m to £600,000, in 2000. But in the course of 2000 it was used only 17 times, meaning that each trip cost the taxpayer more than £35,000. Sir Michael said the Queen would use the train as her "travelling base" during Jubilee year, sleeping as much as three nights in a row on board. The shape of its replacement would depend on its success during the year.

The cost of the train was cut in 2000 when it was reduced from 14 to eight coaches, and its two royal class 47 diesel locomotives, Prince William and Prince Henry, are used for general duties when not needed by the royals. Increasingly the Queen and other members of the Royal Family have travelled by helicopter or scheduled rail service to keep costs down. Last month, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh took a First Great Western train from London to Chippenham on an Apex fare of £39.70 each.

Sir Michael told MPs that the royals were concerned not to become reliant on air travel, as they did not want to disappoint their hosts by arriving for visits late because of bad weather.

Sir Richard Mottram, the permanent secretary at the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions, said that selling the train would raise less than £1m.

It was also disclosed that, on security advice, the Royal Family had not used any scheduled air services since the terrorist attacks of 11 September.

"I wouldn't want to say how long we will continue to receive that advice," Sir Michael said.