Caledonian Sleeper losses increased by nearly 50% even before Covid crisis

The Serco-operated Scotland-London trains went further into the red in the year to March, The Scotsman has learned
Caledonian Sleeper's new train fleet was introduced in April last year.Caledonian Sleeper's new train fleet was introduced in April last year.
Caledonian Sleeper's new train fleet was introduced in April last year.

Caledonian Sleeper’s losses went up by 48 per cent from £3.08 million to £4.57 million, its 2019-20 annual accounts have revealed.

It came as last-ditch talks were due to be held tomorrow to avert a series of strikes from Sunday over staff rest areas.

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All services on Sunday and Monday night have been cancelled because of a planned 48-hour walkout.

The worsening financial situation came despite the introduction of a brand new train fleet in April 2019, at the beginning of the financial year covered by the figures.

The new carriages were plagued by a series of faults which caused delays and disruption to passengers.

Over the year, ticket sales were up from £23.3m to £25.6m but catering sales fell from £731,000 to £671,000.

Serco said the increase in losses and the fall in catering sales were both primarily attributable to the introduction of the new fleet.

Subsidy payments from the Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency went down from £23.4m to £15m.

The figures cover the period up to the start of the coronavirus pandemic which led to a significant reduction in passengers and a curtailing of some Sleeper services.

The number of passengers on the overnight trains was initially cut by 90 per cent when only essential travel was permitted.

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Transport secretary Michael Matheson has provided extra cash to meet the shortfall in “emergency measures agreements”, which also cover ScotRail.

These initially covered April to September but have now been extended with a second deal lasting to January.

The first of these totalled £240m and the second £103.5m.

No breakdown has been provided between Caledonian Sleeper and ScotRail by Transport Scotland.

However, a source said the latter payment included a sizeable share going to support the Sleeper operation.

Caledonian Sleeper has admitted it might need extra support from parent company Serco.

The accounts stated: “In severe but plausible downside scenarios associated with the impact of Covid-19 over the forecast period, including the impact of a second wave, the directors acknowledge there may be a requirement to request additional funds from the company’s parent.”

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union is due to hold talks with the company tomorrow after claiming staff had been refused access to spare cabins on trains to rest during extended shifts.

The union has announced 48-hour walkouts from Sunday and the following Sunday, along with an indefinite overtime ban.

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A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “All subsidy payments have been in line with the Franchise Agreement.

"Significant manufacturer delays in delivering the new rolling stock resulted in Caledonian Sleeper generating lower revenue while incurring additional costs of retaining and maintaining old trains alongside new ones.”

A Serco spokesman said: ”Serco introduced new, modern carriages for the Caledonian Sleeper service in 2019, which are delivering a significantly enhanced service for our passengers.

“Prior to Covid, we were seeing an increase in passenger journeys and we look forward to resuming that trajectory in due course.”

Caledonian Sleeper operates trains nightly except on Saturdays between Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fort William, Inverness and London

Before services were curtailed by the pandemic, they also operated to and from Aberdeen.

Serco won a 15-year franchise to run the Sleeper which started in 2015.

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