Queen makes surprise appearance at Elizabeth line opening ceremony

The Queen has marked the completion of London’s Crossrail project by attending the opening ceremony of the Elizabeth line.

Accompanied by the Earl of Wessex, she was welcomed by the prime minister, Boris Johnson, the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, and the commissioner of Transport for London, Andy Byford, at Paddington station.

Using a walking stick, the Queen smiled as she met staff who have been key to the project and who will run the railway, including train drivers, station workers and apprentices. She was given an Oyster card and shown how to use it on a ticket machine. She walked slowly as she made her way around the station concourse.

The Queen unveiled a plaque stating that she “officially opened” the Elizabeth line and spent 10 minutes in the station before leaving in a lift.

Johnson told guests: “We’re all incredibly touched and moved and grateful to Her Majesty for coming to open the Elizabeth line today. It was fantastic to see her.”

It was a rare public engagement for the 96-year-old monarch, who missed the state opening of parliament last week.

Announcing the Queen’s intention to be at the ceremony, Buckingham Palace said: “In a happy development, Her Majesty the Queen is attending today’s event to mark the completion of the Elizabeth line. Her Majesty was aware of the engagement and the organisers were informed of the possibility she may attend.”

The engagement is the Queen’s first outside the Windsor area since she attended the Duke of Edinburgh’s memorial service in Westminster Abbey seven weeks ago.

Kofi Duah, an Elizabeth line customer experience assistant, said he was “thrilled” to present an Oyster card to the Queen and show her how it could be topped up on a machine.

The Queen did not top up the card, which was preloaded with £5 of credit. He said: “I gave her an Oyster card and told her she can tap it on the yellow reader. I showed her the current balance and how to top up the Oyster.

“She said, ‘Where can I use it?’. I said, ‘You can use it across our line, so from Paddington to Abbey Wood. She said, ‘Oh nice, splendid’.”

The Elizabeth line, named in the Queen’s honour, will open to passengers on 24 May. It was hoped the head of state would be involved in the opening ceremony but her attendance was not guaranteed as she has missed a number of big events this year owing to mobility problems.

She made a trip to the Royal Windsor horse show on Friday, and on Sunday was the guest of honour at the equestrian show A Gallop Through History near Windsor, the first big event of the jubilee festivities.

Crossrail, the name of the project to build the new east-west railway, was delayed and over budget because of numerous problems, including construction difficulties and complications installing signalling systems.

It was due to be completed in December 2018 and was set a budget of £14.8bn in 2010. The total cost has been estimated at £18.9bn, including £5.1bn from the government.

The Elizabeth line will boost capacity and cut journey times across the capital. It will stretch from Reading in Berkshire and Heathrow airport in west London to Shenfield in Essex and Abbey Wood in south-east London.

Trains will initially operate in three sections, which are expected to be integrated in the autumn.

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