Sharing with a stranger on Scotland-London sleeper trains is to be banned from next month – with lone passengers facing a 65 per cent fare hike.
Ending the age-old option for budget travellers has sparked anger from passengers, who have accused Caledonian Sleeper of “arrogance and extortion”.
They are also upset the change will not wait until new carriages are introduced, as originally planned. These are delayed until October.
Since the service was introduced 145 years ago, people have been able to share a cabin with another passenger of the same sex.
However, from 26 February, they will have to pay for a separate room, with fares starting at £140 compared to £85 to share. Sharing is still permitted on Britain’s only other sleeper, between London and Penzance.
Julian Paren, who is leading a campaign against the move, said it would price some people off the train.
He said: “To deprive those who are willing to share (for many of whom sharing brings using the sleeper within their financial reach) of the opportunity to do so, smacks of arrogance and extortion.”
He said sharing “would be more economical and encourage more people to take the greener option rather than flying”.
Sharing a cabin is seen by some as part of the adventure of sleeper travel.
In his book My Trade, journalist Andrew Marr recalled taking a sleeper from London to Edinburgh for a job interview at The Scotsman.
He found himself sharing the compartment with a “substantially built, dark-bearded Scot wearing nothing but his underpants, heavily tattooed and smoking”, with whom he went on share beer cans and a carton of duty-free cigarettes.
Marr said: “Some eight hours later, unshaven, entirely drunk at breakfast time and smelling like a homeless kipper, I arrived for my interview.”
He got the job.
However, Transport Scotland said its consultation had shown sharing was “outdated”, with only around four people per train taking the option.
Its spokesperson said: “Only a small number of passengers are prepared to use ‘share with a stranger’.”
A Serco Caledonian Sleeper spokesperson said its consultation had “confirmed that sharing with a stranger is not appropriate for the majority of travellers.”
The sleeper has always been a misnomer for many rail travellers.
The overnight service from Scotland to London, or in days gone by, to Plymouth, might offer a bed, but for some, the rattling rolling stock and coupling of carriages is torture by sleep deprivation.
I’m lucky. I can sleep like a log on the overnight train. But even that happy knack might not be enough when sharing, with a stranger, a two-berth cabin that is marginally more spacious than an MRI scanner.
First, there is the tension of finding out if you have been lucky enough to be allocated a room to yourself, because the train isn’t fully booked. Sadly, that has happened to me just once in 20 years.
Next is the pivotal moment of opening the door and finding out who you will be spending the next seven hours with. Obsessive? New age traveller? Sociopath? The possibilities are endless.
But what if your companion isn’t there, and the train departs? That’s when it’s time to get really worried. Your fellow traveller could be any of your biggest nightmares – but worse than that, he’s in the buffet car. Filling his bladder.
What time will he retire? Late enough not to have to tumble from the top bunk at 4am to make a break for the WC at the end of the carriage, kneeing you in the face on the way out the door? Or early enough to come back in refreshed mood, and keen to talk politics?
Of course, this experience can be avoided entirely by travelling first class, and getting a bunk to yourself. But there’s the rub: sharing the cabin means sharing the cost, and the sleeper might be subsidised, but it isn’t cheap.
Under the new service, the privilege of travelling alone will come at a cost: an extra £55. I would rather pay less and take my chances. After all, you can always seek refuge in the buffet car.