SCOTTISH ministers have accused the UK government of threatening the future of the Caledonian Sleeper service by planning to move the trains to the other side of London during high-speed rail construction work.
Transport minister Keith Brown said he “entirely rejected” proposals to divert the cross-Border night trains from Euston, in north London, to Waterloo, south of the Thames, when work starts on HS2.
He fears the move could jeopardise the viability of a new franchise to run the sleepers which starts next year.
In a barbed reference to the UK government’s mishandling of the west coast main line franchise competition two years ago, Brown said he would not allow the HS2 plans “to derail our own well-run franchise processes”.
The Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency said the switch would increase journey times and the cost of running the service.
It said Waterloo would also be less attractive to passengers than Euston, which is served by daytime Scottish trains, along with nearby King’s Cross. The sleepers will be among trains hit by the expansion of Euston station to accommodate the high-speed line to the West Midlands, with work expected to start in two years’ time.
The plans come at a critical time for the new franchise, with the winning bidder due to be announced this summer.
Transport Scotland is assessing bids lodged in January by current ScotRail franchisee FirstGroup, and rivals Arriva and Serco, whose parent firms run sleepers in Germany and Australia respectively.
The winner will be required to radically overhaul the service, which runs between Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Fort William, Inverness and London, to make it “emblematic of Scotland”. Up to £110 million will be spent on new or refurbished carriages, which could include en suite cabins and premium dining.
Brown said: “We are aware of Department for Transport (DfT) proposals for HS2 works that would see Caledonian Sleeper services unable to access Euston station in the run-up to HS2 phase one opening in 2024 and we entirely reject these plans.” He said moving the trains to Waterloo “would not be acceptable”.
“Speculation of this type creates uncertainty and is unhelpful at this late stage of the refranchising of this service.
“Transport Scotland can be rightly proud of how it is managing the franchising processes for both the Caledonian Sleeper and the ScotRail contract, particularly in the wake of the DfT’s public embarrassment around the west coast main line franchise.
“We will not allow this last-minute change at DfT to derail our own well-run franchise processes.
“The Caledonian Sleeper is an iconic service, valued by passengers and of vital importance to Scotland, and we will not accept any solution which adversely impacts on passenger experience or the future viability of the service.”
A spokesman for the watchdog Passenger Focus said: “Clearly, the smooth operation of existing services that run to and from London Euston, including the Caledonian Sleepers, will be a key issue during HS2’s construction.
“It is vital the rail industry talks to those who will be most affected – in other words the passengers – before any decisions are made.”
A spokesman for HS2 said: “I’ve checked the relevant document. There is nothing I can find about any change to that service.”
New HS2 chairman David Higgins is due to unveil his review of the entire scheme tomorrow.
A DfT spokesman said: “We are confident we will be able to continue London to Scotland sleeper services during the building works at Euston.”