Sleeper train drivers perfect smoother driving

Drivers are having their skills enhanced as part of a package of sleeper improvements. Picture: Iain MacLean

Drivers are having their skills enhanced as part of a package of sleeper improvements. Picture: Iain MacLean

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TRAIN drivers on the Caledonian Sleeper are to pose as passengers to help them perfect a smoother ride.

The new operator of the Scotland-London trains hopes customers will sleep better if drivers learn to accelerate and brake more gently.

Drivers have ridden the sleeper to get a feel for passenger experience

So those at the controls of the locomotives which haul the overnight trains will swap their cabs for berths to experience the service as passengers.

GB Railfreight, which provides the engines, believes it will make it easier for staff to adjust their driving to iron out the jolts.

That also promises to reduce the impact on slumbering passengers of shunting different sections of the trains together in the middle of the night.

The Edinburgh and Glasgow portions of the “Lowland” Sleeper are joined together southbound and divided northbound at Carstairs in South Lanarkshire.

The Fort William, Inverness and Aberdeen portions of the separate “Highland” service are similarly joined and divided in Edinburgh.

The novel approach to driver training follows Serco taking over the service from ScotRail in March.

The firm is running it as a separate operation for the first time in the 140-year history of cross-border night trains.

Serco is seeking to maximise improvements on the current trains, which are up to 40 years old, before a brand-new fleet arrives in 2018.

GB Railfreight took over providing the sleeper’s locomotives from DB Schenker as part of the 15-year Serco contract,

Many of its drivers are thought to be new to sleeper operations as the company’s other duties include hauling cars, coal and petrochemicals.

GB Railfreight’s managing dir­ector, John Smith, said: “We are committed to delivering a comfortable service for passengers so they have a good night’s sleep on the Caledonian Sleeper.

“Our train drivers have taken the time to ride the sleeper in order to get a feel for the passenger experience first-hand and have been undergoing training to ensure smooth acceleration and braking on the service.

“Now the Caledonian Sleeper is an isolated franchise, we are committed to paying attention to the detail.

“We have been working closely with Serco and our other partners to ensure we get the little things right, so that passengers receive the highest quality service.”

The sleeper takes seven-and-a-half hours between Edinburgh, Glasgow and London – three hours longer than daytime trains – so there is scope for a more sedate journey.

Caledonian Sleeper managing director Peter Strachan said instructors were also accompanying drivers to improve their skills.

He said this included both smoother acceleration and more gentle braking.

Strachan said drivers also welcomed feedback from regular passengers – like air passengers praising pilots for smooth landings.

He said: “It’s exactly the same thing, and a really important part of what we offer.

“A kissing of the buffers is what we want.”

The training comes on top of Serco replacing the duvets, pillows and sheets in the berths to provide a “crisper and more pleasant feel” to the bedding.

Passengers have also been offered pillow sprays to help them sleep. That followed research it commissioned from the British Sleep Society, the professional body for doctors and scientists who deal with sleep disorders.

Strachan said sleeper staff were also wearing monitors to track their sleep patterns, which could lead to further innovations.

The new sleeper trains, being constructed by Edinburgh trams builder Caf in Spain, will include Europe’s first lie-flat train seats, as well as en suite toilets and showers in first class cabins for the first time.

They will also feature larger beds than the current 2ft-wide berths – one third narrower than normal single beds – to take account of average body sizes increasing since the coaches were built.

The improvements are all part of the Scottish Government’s ambition that the service becomes “emblematic of the best of Scotland”.

Other changes have included more Scottish produce on the menu, including haggis and potatoes from Dingwall, and smoked meats from Kinloch Rannoch.

However, train drivers’ union Aslef expressed bemusement at the training plans.

Scotland district secretary Kevin Lindsay said: “We are not aware of any additional training being given to the Caledonian Sleeper drivers.

“However, we believe the drivers are already highly trained professionals who ensure every passenger has a safe and comfortable journey.”

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