Queen makes surprise appearance at Paddington station to formally open Elizabeth Line

The Queen was shown how to top up an Oyster card during her visit to Paddington

The Queen has made a surprise last-minute appearance at Paddington station to formally open Crossrail. The £19billion underground railway, named the Elizabeth Line in her honour, will begin carrying passengers next week, on May 24. The Queen’s involvement in the opening ceremony was only confirmed two hours before the event today (17 May).

She was due to open the line In December 2018, but the launch was postponed indefinitely when it became clear the railway was far from ready.

Continued delays to the project, leading to massively increased costs meant Crossrail would not open until 2022.

The 96-year-old monarch who now rarely carries out public engagements outside of her royal residences

The Queen’s frailty and mobility problems in recent weeks cast doubt on whether she would be able to open the line.

A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman 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."

Last week, Her Majesty made her first public appearance in nearly a month - attending the Royal Windsor Horse Show.

Below: The Queen is shown how to top up an Oyster card by customer experience assistant Kofi Duah who said: “I showed her the current balance and how to top up the Oyster. She said ‘where can I use it?’

VIP guests waiting at Paddington today were told to expect the Earl of Wessex in place of the monarch.

A plaque bearing his name was positioned behind purple curtains.

But a flurry of activity in the Elizabeth Line ticket hall at 10:15 saw the shiny metal sign replaced by a new one announcing: Elizabeth Line. Officially opened by Her Majesty the Queen.

The new plaque was fixed in place eight inches below the original to account for the difference in height between the Queen and her son.

The Queen and Edward were welcomed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Transport for London commissioner Andy Byford.

Edward, on his trip on the line, was invited to stand in the driver’s cab during the second leg of the journey.

He chatted with driver Carinne Spinola as the train moved, telling her it was "brilliant".

After stepping off the train at Paddington, the earl said: "That was brilliant. I did enjoy that. It was good fun."

The Duke of Wessex talking to driver Carinne Spinola in the cab of a Elizabeth Line train

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

It was due to be completed in December 2018 and was set a budget of £14.8 billion in 2010.

The total cost has been estimated at £18.9 billion, including £5.1 billion from the Government.

The Elizabeth line will boost capacity and cut journey times for travel 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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