The story of Metro’s Royal opening in 1981

The Queen unveils a plaque at Gateshead Metro station, Nov 6 1981
7 November 2021

The Royal opening of Metro was part of a three-week transport festival on Tyneside, designed to encourage people to try the new Metro system.

There was a huge fireworks display, a transport treasure trail, competitions - including one with a first prize of a Spanish holiday - a balloon race, a public transport cavalcade and exhibition, specially commissioned souvenirs, and cheap fares.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh came to carry out an official opening ceremony on Metro on the morning November 6, 1981. 

Her Majesty would officially declare the Metro system open.

The new QEII Metro Bridge - the sixth across the Tyne - would be officially dedicated by the Queen, allowing passengers to travel into Gateshead, and beyond to Heworth.

David Howard was Director General of the Tyne and Wear Passenger Executive, now Nexus, when the Metro project was completed, and it was Mr Howard who had the job of showing the Queen around the new Metro system.

The Royal visit marked the opening of the of Metro’s underground route from Haymarket through Monument and Central Station, continuing across the Tyne into Gateshead and on to a new southern terminus at Heworth Interchange.

At 10.15am on a chilly but sunny autumn day, thousands of people lined Grey Street, and many waved Union Jacks, as the Royal limousine pulled up in the shadow of Grey’s monument.

All police leave in the city had been cancelled and street cleaners had made sure the area was spick and span.

The Queen took a ticket to ride, travelling on the Metro driver on the new line between Monument and Gateshead.

The Royal party and the invited guests travelled on Metrocars 4020 and 4007 from Monument to a specially erected gantry at the north end of the new Metro bridge. 

Her Majesty officially named the structure the Queen Elizabeth II Metro bridge. This continued a long tradition of Tyne crossings being opened by royalty, stretching back to 1849, when Queen Victoria opened the High Level Bridge. 

Even a bomb scare failed to halt the visit, though it was sped up on security advice as a result of that incident.

Meanwhile, the Metro Royal train was delayed further because Prince Philip had strolled short distance into the middle of the new bridge to admire the view of the Tyne. 

Once in Gateshead, the Metro was officially opened by the Queen who made a short speech before unveiling a plaque.

The Royal party then got back on the train to Heworth. On arrival there, in another unrehearsed move, Prince Philip spoke to the Metro driver, Jack Hall, and ended up sitting in his cab asking questions.

The visit then concluded with a lavish reception at Newcastle Civic Centre, where the Royal party and their guests dined on smoked salmon mousse, roast beef in truffle sauce and peaches flamed with brandy.

Tyneside’s rapid transport system revolution was officially underway. 


A TV report from the Royal opening of Metro in November 1981

Local author Colin Alexander on the day the Queen opened Metro

© 2022 Nexus Tyne and Wear - Public Transport and Local Information.