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Royal Train Won't Be Railroaded

Britain's Queen Elizabeth arrives at Westminster Abbey, in London, Monday, June 2, 2003, where a service took place to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the coronation in 1953.
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The royal train is financially fit for the queen, Buckingham Palace said Thursday.

Despite lawmakers' recommendations that it is overpriced and underused and should be scrapped, the royal train will continue to ferry Queen Elizabeth II around the country to visit her subjects, palace officials said.

Alan Reid, the queen's keeper of the privy purse, said all aspects of the train's operations had been considered before the decision was made to keep it, "but we will monitor its operation and, where possible, reduce costs."

"Cost alone was not the only factor we considered," he added. "The ages of the queen and (her husband) the Duke of Edinburgh - 77 and 82 respectively - were a consideration."

"Also, the need for secure accommodation, a traveling office and reliability were taken into account."

He said the eight carriages and two locomotives, named Prince William and Prince Harry, cost taxpayers about $88 per mile to operate. They would probably be serviceable for 15 more years.

Finance reports published Thursday by the palace showed the royal train cost taxpayers $1.4 million during the 2002-03 financial year - compared with $1 million in 2001-02 - and was used for 19 journeys, four more than in the previous year, averaging 827 miles per journey.

Use of the train is largely restricted to the queen, her husband and their eldest son, Prince Charles.

In recent years, the royals have retired the royal yacht Britannia and slashed the number of royal rail carriages from 14 to nine.

Overall, royal travel costs fell to $6.7 million in 2002-2003 from $7.8 million, despite extra travel for the queen during her Golden Jubilee last year, the figures showed.

They showed it cost each person in Britain 96 cents to finance the queen's official duties during 2002-03, 3 cents more per head than the previous year.

"We are trying to achieve a high quality operation but efficiency in terms of value for money is important," Reid said. "However, it is not necessarily our aim to have the cheapest monarchy possible - quality is also important."

"Taking inflation into account, the cost per head of the population is still that of a loaf of bread."

The royal train dates from June 13, 1842, when Queen Victoria made the short trip from Slough, near Windsor Castle, to London's Paddington station.

By Sue Leeman