Will Caledonian Sleeper add to image of Scotland’s trains as envy of Britain? - Alastair Dalton

Eight years ago, the Scottish Government floated the idea of significantly cutting back the Caledonian Sleeper because of the state of the trains and cuts in daytime rail journey times.

If any of those options had been implemented, there might now be no overnight trains serving Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William, or Glasgow, or even Edinburgh too.

Instead, the opposite has happened, culminating on Sunday night with the launch of the first of a brand new and impressive-looking £150 million fleet.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

This comes against a background of Scotland’s railways being the envy of the industry south of the Border thanks to the recent major upgrades, such as electrification of several lines across the Central Belt.

The new Caledonian Sleeper ads urge passengers to "dream big"

But the new fleet is an even more remarkable achievement considering sleeper trains are being scrapped across Europe.

The trains are unashamedly pitched at the luxury end of the market after ministers decided against refurbishing the 40-year-old existing rolling stock and instead significantly raised the bar on quality to create a service “emblematic of Scotland”.

But such quality doesn’t come cheap, with room prices starting at between £140 and £335 one-way for solo travellers. The expectations of both regular and new travellers will have been raised accordingly.

Read More

Read More
New Caledonian Sleeper review: Delays not the only issue with new service

However, the pressure on operator Serco has also increased. It took over the service from ScotRail in 2015 with a “committed obligation” to ministers to introduce the new trains in April 2018.

That was delayed twice, and the firm has admitted it took a £30 million hit on the franchise because of a sharp increase in costs.

Serco must have been desperate to get the trains into service and starting to earn money, following supposedly exhaustive testing.

But for some reason, it brought forward the revised launch date by a month from late May.

The inaugural service ran on a night with two diversions to the normal route, a major signalling problem between Glasgow and Edinburgh, followed by locomotive and train coupling glitches thrown in.

I hear that when ScotRail’s brand new class 385 electric train made its debut run last July, Network Rail were “all over it” with “people everywhere” to ensure a smooth run – but that didn’t happen on Sunday night.

On board the train, despite the expected teething troubles, as staff admitted, those in the know gave generally positive reports from both sleeping cabins and the seated section.

Food in the new-look Club Car was impressive and reasonably priced – my two courses cost £16.

In the cabins, the beds were comfortable and there is a good range of lighting. I’m sure the faulty window seal, air conditioning and shower I encountered will be fixed on my next trip, but I was surprised someone had even forgotten to remove the protective plastic cover from the mirror on the back of the door.

In the service’s new advertising campaign to coincide with the launch, Sleeper passengers are encouraged to “dream big”. Its novel London storyline – a woman travelling south for an audition – should appeal to Scottish passengers tired of the previous focus on enticing folk to head north.

Serco has proved it can think big in seeing the project through to this stage. But it must not disappoint the new Sleeper passengers it attracts.