Exciting initiative from Transport Scotland on Caledonian Sleeper

Transport Scotland is detailing the requirements for bidders for the new franchise to operate the Caledonian Sleeper – with the objective of transforming it into a travel experience to equal the world’s best rail-journeys.

Among other things, the department is talking about ensuite loos, station-based shower facilities, seriously upgraded onboard catering and wifi. [Why have ensuite loos though, and leave showering to a chilly dash across a bleak and windy station platform?]

What about some new rolling stock?

A route like the Caledonian’s just has to have upper level observation cars. How fabulous would that be? Why not? In the summer months we get so many hours of daylight that early rising to an observation car on this run would be richly rewarded.

This is a genuinely exciting development and Transport Scotland are to be congratulated and encouraged. If this is really well done, it would offer so much more to those who already use the service and build a new market purely for the calibre and pleasure of the experience it could provide.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • LinkedIn
  • Technorati
  • TwitThis
  • Ma.gnolia
  • NewsVine
  • StumbleUpon
  • SphereIt
  • Reddit
  • Slashdot
  • Print

42 Responses to Exciting initiative from Transport Scotland on Caledonian Sleeper

    • Yes. We’d wondered about that – but something would need to be done.
      If it is to have a chance of working as an attraction in its own right – which the Scottish landscape it travels through could make certain, passeegers would have to be able to see it.
      That means two things:
      - initial and regular scrub cutting;
      - observation cars.
      A service that just offered ensuite loos, better food, wifi and a dash onto the platform in Edinburgh for a shower might secure more of its existing market agaonst the air routes – provided it did not hike the prices – but it would not be nearly enough to build a new one.
      None of that is sufficiently special. Comfort should never be an add-on but the baseline for 21st century travel. Any train these days should have wifi, enough decent loos and better food.
      The Caledonian has to be in a position to sell first class viewing access to Scotland’s remote landscapes.
      When the Highlander gets to Edinburgh Waverley it divides into three sections, one for Fort William – The Deerstalker; one for Aberdeen; and one for Inverness.
      The Deerstalker’s route is the one most associate with the Caledinian Highander and is arguably the most scenic [if you can see it]. It has the Clyde, Loch Lomond, Rannoch Moor, the Monessie Gorge, the Nevis range and part of the Caledonian Canal but each of the other two has a great deal to offer.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

      • Its a sleeper – the windaes are supposed to be opaque. As for the Highland “clickety clacking”, rumbling points and shunting, it’s just noisy. Compared to the Spanish Hotel trains the current version is simply rubbish. Upgrade long overdue – copy the continentals – new high speed electric lines driven straight across the country – top quality coaches and staff including the necessary gun lockers – none of your matey Virgin rubbish. London to the Scottish estate and back over the weekend – minimum contact with the locals – way to go

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

        • My Dad used to catch the overnight sleeper (first class of course) and have his gamekeeper meet him at Crianlarich.

          Said gamekeeper would drive him back to the station Monday evening.

          He had some great weekends.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      • As Spock says, upper level observation cars are out on any UK train because of gauge profile restrictions which should arguably have been eased a long time ago , as they hinder the carriage of full-size containers and the use of double-deck stock for suburban services. En-suite loos reduce even further the number of passengers carried in a sleeper carriage, already a great deal fewer than in a day carriage, so imply a hefty premium charge. Ditto for an observation car, though there is possibly a case for one on specials, tail-end ones also have to be switched end-for-end for the return journey, and turned. Not many turntables nowadays, though I believe that one has been re-installed at the Fort.
        I can vouch for the Spanish “Tren-Hotel”, but RENFE has a far more generous loading gauge, and a foot more in width and height makes a lot of difference.
        That particular train is also a Talgo type ( articulated low-floor ) and UK railways have always shied away from such things.

        All in all I think that we are damned lucky to have a West Highland Sleeper at all. But they could cut back the lineside foliage a lot more.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

        • All is not lost – to pick up on the idea of observation cars, and of tail-end cars having to be turned at each end of a journey, the Golden Pass route in southern Switzerland has for many years been running double ended observation car trains with the driver occupying a ‘pod’ in the roof (much like the original Boeing 747 aircraft design) – but on a metre gauge railway with a vehicle profile that would appear likely to fit within the British standard gauge limits.
          Imagine that on the West Highland line – being able to sit and watch the scene unfold ahead.
          The Swiss trains have slightly tiered rows of seating so that something like 16 – 20 people at each end of the train can enjoy a superb view.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

          • I can’t see much need to have the driver front and centre, although I guess there are spatial awareness advantages; the old Blue Trains on the Helensburgh line were great as you could look forwards(the drivers cab only had glass separating it) and the carriage had a much greater area of glass than the Junipers(although you knew about it on a sunny day!). A special observation train could have cameras forward and a ‘virtual cab’ somewhere more central; the difficulty being a singleton set of rolling stock like this would be quite expensive to build, even using existing powertrain components.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

          • The driver on the Zweisimmen – Montreux train is up above, with the passengers at each end of the train enjoying superb panoramic views – very different from the glass screen behind the driver on the old ‘blue trains’ from Glasgow to Helensburgh etc.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  1. I hope there’s still room for the amazing value ‘bargain berths’ for people who can book in advance – as cheap as £19.00 , and in many ways more time-efficient than getting to & from airports with all the attendant hassle.
    I also hope they take great care with the ‘improvements’ – the lounges were previously ‘improved’ by replacing some of the chairs & tables – that encourage strangers and regulars alike (often politicians & familiar tv presenters on the Glasgow sleeper) to get into conversation & put the world to rights into the early hours – with inward facing sofas that (however comfortable) don’t seem quite as sociable.
    And there’d be no ‘chilly dash across a bleak & windy station platform’ to the showers, as all the main termini are under cover and I doubt there’ll ever be showers at the likes of Tyndrum Upper.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    • Agreed absolutely on the bargain berths – a fantastic service.
      But on the showers – Edinburgh Waverley, timewise, would be the likely host. It may be under cover but like any station, it’s grimy and there are oily breezes. Would you feel like emerging into that environment for a dawn shower – if you were a high-end fare payer of the sort the proposed upgrade would be aiming to attract?
      The UK has never got hold of what ‘service’ actually means.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

      • A couple of years ago there was quite a bit in the local papers about people trying to book berths but being told none available when there were empty berths. Block reservations were being made by ticket selling agencies I think. Was it ever resolved?

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • You get what you pay for. £19 bargain berth might sound fine but just how far does a £19 ticket get you anywhere on the rail network? Sure its a bargain Scotland to London but it is obviously just throwing taxpayer money at providing a small handful of tickets that should cost much much more. If the sleeper is going to be upgraded to a much better standard then it should be priced appropriately. There’s no point in spending a fortune upgrading it if you’re then proposing to throw money at people who just want the cheapest means of travel. Government should pay them to take the bus, it would be a lot cheaper than the amount of subsidy it would have to be giving away to bridge the gap between £19 and whatever the actual cost of the sleeper should be. There isn’t a lot of capacity so it can’t be that hard to fill. Free up some space for people who actually value what the sleeper offers and are prepared to pay a reasonable amount for it.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

      • You’ve got it wrong – the sliding price scale for apex tickets is designed to fill what would otherwise likely be empty space, just like the budget airline pricing strategies, and the same type of pricing is available on daytime trains on the main long distance routes to London. For example you can get from Glasgow or Edinburgh to London for less than £19 on a daytime train, and from London to the southwest of England for less than £15.
        So don’t complain about a godsend in terms of affordable long distance travel.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

        • Maybe so but there can’t be that many beds so its not like trying to fill thousands of train or flight seats every day. Surely of all the people traveling there is a sufficient and tiny percentage that want to go by sleeper because of the experience and the value they get from arriving early at either end that is more than enough to fill it without giving away tickets?

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. I really hope that something of this nature would take off and would indeed be a terrific service. I also think that if this service could be had for less than £20.00 then so much the better. I fear though that the pricing of say £20.00 sound remarkably unrealistic based on my experience of just a few days ago. I have booked a holiday, mid October, on a boat on the Norfolk Broads for some fishing with a mate of mine who lives near Gatwick Airport. As I wouldn’t have access to a car for this trip I suggested that I get a train from either Oban or Glasgow to Kings Lynn where he would collect me. Choosing the train made sense as I had luggage and fishing tackle to haul around. Travelling fro Glasgow the cost was in excess of £175.00 with a journey time of 19 hours 35 mins. I didn’t bother looking at Oban after that I think that with some effort that price could be beaten but the system is far too complicated for me as it stands – but time frame would remain unaltered. Quick look on the Easyjet site revealed a flight to Gatwick for £38.00 and airport to airport time of just over the hour. An extra £28.00 covered all ‘sports gear’ that I needed to take.
    OK 2 hrs to Glasgow Airport and picked up at Gatwick and quick drive up to the Norfolk Broads. No competition really. I am an avid supporter of the railway system and have been since a kid and a keen preservationist from the days of steam to the present day but if they cannot compete on price and time then there is no chance of a successful system. As it stands I cannot afford the time nor cost of this type of travelling. I do hope that the ‘sleeper’ comes to fruition and be very cost effective but somehow based on this experience I am not sure that it will, but if it were then I would have no hesitation in using it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

    • You’d probably have found a better price by going from Glasgow to London then back out to King’s Lynn.
      Ever since the direct trains were all scrapped a few years ago to go from western Scotland to southwest England it has been far cheaper (and, believe it or not, often faster) via London, and it seems that travel to and from London can be bought in advance at far greater discounts compared to ‘cross country’ routes.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  3. In addition to the cost disadvantage rail travel is often stressful in my experience. As a regular(ish) traveller from Oban to North Wales, I find a flight from Glasgow to Manchester on a drive/fly/drive basis is much more efficient and often cheaper set against 1st class travel on the train. With at least 3 changes on the train journey, the prospect of missing a connection was not relaxing, especially when there was less than 15 minutes between arrival and departure times to find the onward connection at busy stations.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

    • Never missed a flight connection ? Or spent 3 hours changing flights at Stansted
      Or had an unstressful city driving experience ?

      I have had numerous successful 6-minute connections on DB, considered quite normal in Germany, and some in Switzerland that were only 2 minutes ( the trains were on adjacent platforms ). And a good railways tells you your connection platform in advance.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      • Yes, trains on the Continent do seem more reliable time wise, especially Austria & Switzerland in my experience. Sadly, trains in the UK are not so reliable, and a 15 minute window soon erodes with late arrivals, which has happened to me on more than one occasion.
        Agree downside of flying can be long periods of waiting (but low stress)in souless airports. Maybe the stress factor can be wound up if and when the Oban/Glasgow flight service becomes available.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. I am a very regular user of the service (about 50x p.a) and have also used the other sleeper service in the UK to Cornwall.

    Personally, I can’t see the cost benefit of an ensuite loo. After all, I hope I will only use it once in the whole journey, but because of the extra space it will take up in the carriage and therefore reduce the overall income, I will have to pay a lot of money for it!!! No thanks!

    I have no gripes with the trains or indeed the staff; the latter are fantastic. But I do have a major gripe about the facilities at Glasgow station. I have travelled up the East and West Coast on the service and the facilities at Glasgow are the pits. How can they hope to market it as business service, that you arrive in the City’s for 9am meetings, when Glasgow has nothing in the way of business facilities. Contrast that with Aberdeen and Euston where you are provided with free breakfast on the train and in the 1st class lounge when you arrive, free towels and great showers, phone charger and printers. Glasgow, pay £3 for a shower, no lounge, no breakfast, no nothing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

    • Fair point on the loos issue. If they do this AND hike the prices they will lose audience.
      The station facilities question is a major one. There can be no point in tendering for an upmarket service with the support facilities at a major terminal like Glasgow at their current level.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  5. This is great living in the perfect world, but now back to reality. Who’s going to pay for these wonderful
    ideas? Firstly you have trouble getting a mobile phone signal, let alone Wifi!
    The other interesting point is who’ s going to run it? First don’t have any loco’s, GBRF don’t have any Conductors! And anybody wanting to run it in this day and age will need to make it pay, instead of running it because the government and the locals concerned want it to run regardless of the cost!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  6. Interesting ideas, but when one sees the words ‘Exciting” and “Transport Scotland” in the same sentence it is clearly time to deploy the industrial strength bulls..t filter!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  7. The existing trains with wifi (such as Virgin Pendalino) operate off a mobile phone network. So that’s not going to work along most of the West Highland line.
    From comments in the rail press, the ‘nightstar’ coaches have a very high ‘hotel power’ requirement (electric load to you and me), beyond what the existing locos used on this service can service….
    The aspiration is great but I fear a mass of serious practical (read cost) impediments before this could happen.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      • They’ve already built diesel generator cars (consisting of an entire extra coach) for the aborted Nightstars. A thousand horse-power of additional electrical generator capacity to power the onboard gizmos so essential to the living habits of that rare bird, the “high end” tourist.

        The Fort William and Inverness sleepers were until quite recently hauled by locomotives of only 1700 horse-power in total. Seventeen hundred horse-power to get you there and now we’ll add another 60% to power showers, air con, gizmos. How do we square that with our Green credentials I wonder?

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

          • I suppose they imagine that recycling their wine bottles and Sunday supplements makes it all ok. Anyway, the SUV will be to keep the kids safe (not – that is – kids belonging to other people, obviously), so it doesn’t really count.

            Power steering, power brakes, automatic gearboxes: they’ve a lot to answer for.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

          • ‘To keep the kids safe’ is an interesting philosophy, and doubtless not intended as a joke, but the logical outcome for ‘as safe as safe could be’ would be army surplus armoured personnel carriers for the school run, given that even the toughest (and thirstiest) 4wd car is no match for an errant large truck.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

          • It was certainly intended to be ironic.

            Far from “keeping the kids safe”, many of them, compared to modern private cars, are death traps. The lack of a frontal crumple zone and the propensity for folding, broken backed and hinge-like, around the front seat area, are features that are common to many different makes of large 4×4.

            Nevertheless, although these things are not very capable when it comes to protecting their occupants from damage, they’re very good at dishing it out, weighing up towards the 3 tonne mark in most cases. They go into a crash carrying two or three times the energy of a saloon car travelling at the same speed This energy is almost all converted into mangling whatever they come into contact with as well as in crushing their own ironmongery: so say the laws of physics. In rough terms then, they do two or three times the damage a car would, a lot of it to their own occupants.

            And given their high centres of gravity, loss of control is ever so much easier to attain, making that catastrophic collision all the more achievable. The top end ones have computers which take control to stop you doing this, such is the danger, so that’ll be alright then…

            The interweb is littered with videos of controlled crash tests on big 4x4s; I don’t know whether schadenfreude is inappropriate.
            http://www.boreme.com/posting.php?id=22011

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • My ship has an adequate internet connection in the middle of the North Sea via a V-Sat system, so getting internet on the WHL is not technically challenging. Alternatively micro/nano phone nodes are a lot cheaper than they were even 5 years ago, so fitting them along the length of the line could be viable.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • They are already installing GSM-R for signalling – that’s basically a mobile-phone system.

      There’s a load of fibre-optics running alongside every railway line to carry all the signals; if they ran internet along that with little track-to-train uplinks every mile or so, they could run a fast wifi service.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. You want all this glass fronted, tiered, observation cars to a design totally radical from everything operating in the UK now, for a service running once per day and not for a very obvious social reason, with fine food, super wifi, absolute punctuality and ensuite facilities on the train plus business lounges at main station presumably available to all and constructed to a high quality.
    I just don’t get how this is in any way reconciled with earlier comments that a fair price to pay for all this and an 8 hour overnight, 600 mile plus journey is £20?
    You can barely escape a high street coffee shop having bought lunch for two without dropping £20 these days. That’s probably 70% pure profit for the retailer and we seem totally fine with it.
    As I said before, you get what you pay for. If £20 is an acceptable price point, don’t expect a service that costs any mor than £40 to deliver. Government isn’t prepared to sub you that much.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Jerry, observation coaches are clearly not feasible on the overnight sleeper services – even for the Fort William route – but the train that I mentioned in Switzerland is both a tourist attraction and also forms most regular services on that route.
      For that reason I think it’s relevant to the West Highland rail route, which at present doesn’t seem to be properly exploited (other than the Jacobite) either in the type of trains or in the more comprehensive cutting back of lineside foliage.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • You’re fretting too much, Jerry. In Scotland, we only pay 26% of the cost of our rail journey. “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” is the motto where public subvention is concerned.

      When it comes to making a case for a 74% subsidy on business lounges, air con, ensuites., etc., etc., I’m sure there are “social” reasons in there somewhere. It’s just that I can’t think of any.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      • Fair point PM. At the risk of bringing this around to independence, its that culture that would very quickly make an independent Scotland a bankrupted basket case unless people are willing to pay much higher taxes for all these subsidised benefits or accept a more realistic and lower level of services that the tax base can afford. And I doubt there is any appetite for either.
        Ultimately, someone has to pay directly as a user or indirectly through tax.

        But, it is a great rail journey and there is much more that can be made of it I’m sure.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

        • Are you sure that ‘all these subsidised benefits’ aren’t to be had in a lot of other European countries? Could it be that they make a good deal of sense, in a civilised country? Perhaps you’d prefer the NHS to be abandoned – let the poor and the sick just evaporate, natural selection perhaps?
          What’s your vision for an independent Scotland – a ruggedly self sufficient country where national pride encourages denial of inequalities, where the fat cats thrive and the beggars become so numerous as to be invisible? Perhaps you’d consider modern India as the role model for Scotland? If you think this is fantasy consider Trump’s progress at Balmedie.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • I don’t think anyone is suggesting that the taxpayer subsidise the trains anymore than already, but a special train with observation cars could attract a premium for its seats, much as the Jacobite does, all of which draws tourists to Oban, Fort William and Mallaig where they may spend more of their money with local businesses.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      • Not sure that I agree re more subsidies in some respects.

        In a similar sense, Ken Livingstone might have had a point when he slashed London Transport fares briefly in the 1980s (until a Tory legal challenge had the Law Lords block him). If in Scotland we already pay 74% of rail through tax, why not go all the way and make rail travel free? If a quid pro quo is that we forego the frills (which could be charged at a premium anyway) then so be it. What would that do for tourism, commuting, general economic activity, reducing car use, etc? Or perhaps too radical; the powers-that-be don’t really want us to stop using cars as much as they say.

        Just a thought.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      • Thats an idea. But commentators early on were getting enthusiastic about the prospect of fares being super cheap. For £20 fares you’re not going to get anything special or attractive or bespoke like observation cars. I’d be surprised if it was barely functional if thats the value people place on the service.
        A premium service priced at a premium level might attract the sort of discretionary traveller looking to spend his money to boost economic growth. How much economic growth will come from attracting a lot of people whose primary motivation for going is just because its cheap?

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. I have just started traveling to Aberdeen on a fairly regular basis and I live in Nottinghamshire. After several trials of travelling by the day train and basically loosing a day as well as shelling out for a nights accommodation I have found that it is good for me to catch a six o’clock train down to London from Newark and either walk across from king’s Cross to Euston or Taxi it if its raining. Then board the train at 8.30. Dump my stuff in my cabin (travel 1st but it costs £120 with bulk buy tickets). Have a leisurely supper. (wish this was a bit more enterprising than a microwave job to be honest). Then sleep and I do just that! Never been awake when they part the trains off to Inverness and Fort William. Wake up and have breakfast. Again wish they would do something other than a microwave job! Have it in the saloon car as you get a better view. Then at sometime just before 7.30 in the train pulls to Aberdeen. Good showers in the 1st Class lounge. Cup of coffee in the lounge and either a bit of work or a quick read of the Scottish Editions of the papers.

    Then its off to the office and a full day’s work.

    Wonderful. BTW 64 and still enjoy this. Better than a day trip up or a red eye flight.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


All the latest comments (including yours) straight to your mailbox, everyday! Click here to subscribe.