Rag Gahonia, a test driver at Bombardier in Derby shared the media spotlight as he taught HRH the Prince of Wales to drive a train.
Prince Charles, a keen supporter of railways, visited Litchurch Lane to lend his support to the train building works. As part of his visit he took the controls of a new Sub Surface Line (SSL) train, one of the new fleet being built at Derby for London Underground.
Says Rag Gahonia, 51, ‘I showed Prince Charles how to drive and he followed all the instructions and was really good. Did it perfectly. He also stopped nice and smoothly.’
The Prince described the accompanying press corps as hugely relieved after he concluded his training run. The future of the Derby works had looked uncertain since Bombardier lost out to Siemens in the bid to build the new Thameslink fleet.
However the company managed to secure the £188 million Southern Railway carriages contract and is currently bidding to build and supply the new Crossrail fleet.
On his tour of the works the Prince stopped and chatted to staff. He met Leverne Vasey, 46, of Derby, whose husband Brian also works at Bombardier as a welder.
‘His visit has really picked everyone up. It’s been a tough eight months since we lost Thameslink. But now we know that the factory is staying open, the mood among the workforce has really changed,’ says Leverne.
Meeting apprentices was high on the Prince’s list and he talked to three, Adam Wormald, 18, Nathan Fox, 20 and Dijon Douglas-Green, 21.
Says Dijon, ‘The factory staying open was good news for us and the Prince’s visit was great recognition for us. He told me that he thought we made beautiful trains. To hear something like that from a person like the Prince of Wales is really gratifying and has spurred us on. Eight months ago we were in a bad place. But things have completely turned around now.’
Prince Charles also met Nick and Kane Jellyman, a father and son team, and the third and fourth generation of the family to work at Litchurch lane. Kane’s great grandfather, Frank, and grandfather, Maurice, also worked at Litchurch Lane.
The Prince of Wales was shown round by Sir Neville Simms, Non-Executive Chairman of Bombardier Transportation UK, and Dr Francis Paonessa, President of UK Rolling Stock.
Train driving could offer another career option for the Prince who already holds a pilot’s license and is responsible for a thriving organic farm business.
‘I must admit, I was nervous about teaching the Prince how to drive but I shouldn’t have worried,’ said Rag Gahonia. ‘He’s a really nice guy and has a great knack of putting people at ease. I think he could well get a job as a tube train driver if he fancied it.’
Rag Ghonia has worked in the rail industry for nearly 35 years.