Station Stories at the National Railway Museum (8)

Posted on 16 December 2012 | Image, Narrative

A Royal arrival

Following the Queen’s visit to York on 5th April 2012, the Station Stories team interviewed the York station manager, to find out about preparing for a royal visit.

Station Stories at the National Railway Museum (8)

An earlier royal visit to York station by Prince Andrew and the Duchess of York in 1987. Image courtesy of the National Railway Museum.

“There aren’t many jobs that allow you to meet the royal family. In your everyday working life it’s unlikely you’re going to get the opportunity to meet the Queen and therefore it’s a fantastic honour. There are lots of things that are done in advance in terms of arrangements. They include internal communication. This is kept to a certain level within the company, usually a very small number of people.

The visit in April 2012 was an announced visit so we were able to talk about that more openly, but the information was only distributed to more and more teams as we got closer to the time. If it’s an unannounced visit, it gets briefed to the teams on the day. I’ve been in a position where I’ve been sat in Newcastle station in my office on a Sunday afternoon. I’ve had a call to say we’ve got a couple of VIPs; walked out and it was Prince William and Kate and Prince Harry.

In a case like that, you make the arrangements as you go. But even then there’s a standard protocol of who you get in touch with in terms of the on-call structure at senior level and the on-board crew on the train. The stations along the line are briefed so people know which doors to use and what doors not to use. In instances like that, the royals don’t want special treatment. They sat with other people in the first class lounge just having a drink and a biscuit.

For a visit like the Queen’s we start to prepare a couple of months in advance. We make arrangements for crowd control and plan where the train is going to arrive because they get hand signalled in. Network Rail use a little marker that they put on the platform so the door stops exactly there. This is so it lines up with the red carpet.

By and large, things get spruced up and there’s a further attention to detail. In terms of operation for the train to come in and for the guests to be able to leave the station, the best area is platform 3. What you don’t want people to see is the Gents toilets so we made arrangements to screen that off. We got some Topiary trees to brighten the place up and there was some painting done.

There’s a lot of planning done around what happens to the other dignitaries who will be there on the day – the personal assistants and the protection squad. Ultimately the Royal protection and the police will have the final say in terms of the arrangements for after the royal family depart the train. Our staff have to make sure that the train arrives safely. As part of this particular visit, we opened up the platform to let people look at the train. Not to board it, but to have photos taken with it.

On this occasion, we allowed crowds onto the footbridge but we had people in place to control that and keep an eye out for parents putting kids on their shoulders. We thought they’d be a tendency for people to do that, but it is unsafe because you’ve got overhead line structures.

We kept the other side of the footbridge open as normal for people to get to the other platforms where trains had been re-platformed because the royal train was at Platform 3 for a period of time. The rest of the station continues as normal. After the royal arrival, give it twenty minutes and the barriers are away, the screens are gone, trees are gone and the bollards are put back in.

We have four red carpets that are kept in Newcastle and they come down in advance because they need to be rolled out. You can’t just put a rolled up carpet out because the last thing you want is the Queen coming and tripping. Protocol wise, you don’t shake her hand unless the Queen offers her hand. You bow from the head, from the shoulders down.

I was very honoured and very proud to meet the Queen. I really enjoyed it, but it goes so quickly. While it’s a great honour, my focus is that I want everything to go right. I want everyone to be safe, I want the train to run on time, I want the arrangements and all the planning to have been worthwhile.”