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Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 18:39 GMT
Royal train's future in doubt
The royal helicopter
Helicopters are often used instead of the Royal train
The Royal Train could be scrapped as part of a drive to cut costs.

The future of the train is to be reviewed after the Queen's current Jubilee year, according to the man in charge of the Royal finances.

The future of the Royal train, if it's going to be economic, does depend upon more people using it

Sir Michael Peat

Sir Michael Peat, the keeper of the Privy Purse, has cut travelling expenses by two thirds in the past four years.

But he told MPs he thought there were few savings left to be made, without affecting the Royal family's schedule.

Giving evidence to the public accounts committee, Sir Michael said: "I think we are getting close to the bottom. There is no room for complacency but we are getting close to minus territory."

Sir Michael denied a report in the Sunday Telegraph, which claimed that the Queen was now subsidising Tony Blair's travel bill.

Changes in the way Royal flights were accounted for may have led to that appearance.

Train 'expensive'

Since 1997, Buckingham Palace has had direct responsibility for arranging the 2,500 journeys undertaken by the Royal family each year, which were formerly dealt with by government departments.

Royal Train
The Royal train has been little used in recent years
Changes introduced since then have slashed the annual Royal travel budget from 19.4m in 1997 to 9.3m in 2000.

The annual cost of the Royal train has been reduced from 1.9m a year to 600,000 a year, even though it was only used 17 times last year - a cost of 35,000 per journey.

Sir Michael admitted the train was a very expensive way for the Royal family to travel.

But he said it would be used by the Queen to visit every corner of the UK during her Jubilee.

In 2003, however, the train would be subject to a "serious review" including the question of whether it is needed at all.

Advantages of train travel

The age of the carriages on the Royal Train vary, but the Queen's and Duke of Edinburgh's saloons were built in 1972 and converted for Royal use for the 1977 Silver Jubilee.

They have bedrooms, bathrooms and sitting rooms and are fully fitted out with modern office and communication equipment.

The two locomotives, Prince William and Prince Henry, are used for other duties when the Royal train is not being used.

Sir Michael said the train was "a way of travelling that offers a number of advantages".

"It allows the Royal family to travel while they are sleeping and during mealtimes and it provides excellent facilities for meetings."

It also allowed the Royal Family to arrive on time when adverse weather prevented the landing of helicopters.

The Queen has travelled by public train on 60 occasions in the past year, he said.

'Formica and aluminium'

Sir Michael assured MPs that the Royal train did not offer palatial splendour, comparing it to the "formica and aluminium" of First Class British Rail travel from the 1960s or 1970s.

But because it was slow and old-fashioned and unable to go through the channel tunnel, it was difficult to raise cash by leasing it out.

"The future of the Royal train, if it's going to be economic, does depend upon more people using it," Sir Michael said.

If we could use it more, we could bring down the cost substantially," he added.

Military purposes

Sir Michael said the Queen's flight, 32 Squadron, was principally used for military purposes.

The squadron comprises two BAE 146 jets and five smaller BAE 125 executive jets.

In the past year, the committee was told, just 8% of 32 Squadron's flying time had been used up by the Royal Family, 16% by government ministers and 56% by military use, with rest being taken up with training.

Sir Michael said plans for the Queen to use more scheduled flights had been revised in the light of the terrorist attacks in New York on 11 September.

He also denied that 32 Squadron had ever been used for private business or leisure purposes by members of the Royal Family, following newspaper allegations about Prince Edward.

Since 1997, the Royal Family has had to book in advance and pay for use of planes.

The BBC's Jennie Bond
"The Royal train will play a key role in the Golden Jubilee celebrations"
See also:

28 Jun 01 | UK
Royal finances laid bare
28 Jun 01 | Business
Her Majesty: A financial role model?
22 Jun 01 | UK
Royal travel costs slashed
28 Feb 00 | C-D
Civil List
04 Jul 00 | UK
The minted Royals
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