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13 June 2011

On this day in history: Queen Victoria`s first train journey, 1842

On Wednesday 13th June 1842, Queen Victoria became the first reigning British monarch to travel by railway. The Great Western Railway (GWR) built her a special royal coach to convey her from the station at Slough in Berkshire to London Paddington station. The idea for the journey had originated with the Queen whose officials contacted the authorities at Paddington the previous Saturday. The staff at the GWR quickly drew up plans for the trip in the utmost secrecy, possibly in response to an attempt on the Queen's life the month before while she travelled in a carriage through St. James' Park, London.

The royal party, consisting of Victoria, her husband Prince Albert, and her cousin Count Mensdorf, arrived at Slough station at just before midday and the train, consisting of the Royal saloon and six other coaches, left promptly at 12:00pm. The Firefly class locomotive called Phlegethon, which hauled the train was driven by Daniel Gooch, the GWR's chief mechanical engineer (who designed the Firefly class locomotives), accompanied by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the chief engineer of the GWR.

After a twenty-five minute journey, the train arrived at the Paddington terminus where the Queen was received by the directors and officers of the railway company and their wives, a detachment of the 8th Royal Irish Hussars, and a crowd of cheering onlookers. Following the reception the royal carriage conveyed the royal party to Buckingham Palace, where she arrived at 1pm.

Queen Victoria continued to use the railways regularly, and even bore some of the cost for one of the royal carriages from her own purse. A particular favourite with the royal family was the annual train journey up to Balmoral in Scotland, which they undertook each autumn. The Queen required that the speed of the train not exceed 40 mph during the day nor 30 mph at night, and would have to halt completely if she chose to eat. In spite of her reticence about some elements of travel by train, Victoria's approval of that system of transport must surely have done much to make it popular not only with the less fortunate, but also with the ruling classes of Britain.

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