EN-suite cabins and a “premium” dining service are among facilities that could be included on the new Caledonian sleeper franchise from 2015, Transport Scotland announced on Friday.
Bidders will also be required to produce food on the overnight Scotland-London trains which “showcase the best of Scottish cuisine”.
Details of the 15-year contract, published by Scottish Government officials, suggests that bids will be judged for the first time on the quality of the service on offer, rather than the lowest price.
The specifications confirm reports that ministers want significant improvements to the service to create trains which are “emblematic of Scotland”.
Transport Scotland said yesterday: “The trains will be the southern gateway to Scotland. We want people to step into Scotland when they join the sleeper.”
The agency also hopes to create a first for the railways by having the new-look trains judged for hotel-style star ratings.
Officials expect there will be at least a major overhaul of the current 40-year-old carriages, but said it was up to bidders to decide whether to bring in newer coaches, or order brand new ones.
Up to £60 million of Scottish Government money – £10m more than previously announced – will be spent on the upgrade, which is expected to take up to three years. A further £50m has been pledged by the UK government, which will contribute to station and track upgrades.
The en-suite toilets would be in business-class single cabins, at least, with showers an additional option for bidders. Other planned upgrades include cabin door locks which passengers as well as staff could open, and CCTV in public areas to protect luggage while people are asleep.
Bidders will also be able to offer an enhanced service, such as luxury-class cabins.
Officials said the unprecedented “quality” element of bids, which will also be part of the next ScotRail franchise, “sends a very clear signal we want high quality and are prepared to pay for it where it represents good value”.
The trains run between Euston and Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Fort William and Inverness, carrying 270,000 passengers per year. They currently run 40 per cent empty and the service loses £5m a year.
FirstGroup, which runs the service as part of ScotRail, has been shortlisted to bid for the new, separate franchise against Arriva, whose Deutsche Bahn owner runs sleepers in Germany, and Serco, which runs sleepers in Australia.
Bids are to be submitted in December, with the winner announced in 2014.
Transport minister Keith Brown said: “The Scottish Government is reinforcing its commitment to the sleeper and underlining this with investment in the rolling stock to transform the service, support for a 15-year contract and key improvements like wi-fi throughout the train with booster equipment to maximise signal strength. This will be alongside investment in stations and track that will enhance the overall service.
“I believe the improved specification in the invitation to tender to be issued to bidders will secure a transformed future for the Caledonian Sleeper and deliver a new and enhanced service emblematic of the very best of Scotland.”
The UK government pledged £50m to upgrade the service after a Scottish Government consultation included a range of options, including scrapping it.
Danny Alexander, the UK’s Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey MP, said: “Thanks to Liberal Democrats in the UK government providing additional resources, the sleeper services will see a welcome and much-needed upgrade.”