Caledonian sleeper: Poor performance figures and the role of new loco's

Source: RTM Jun/Jul 15

Since becoming a separate franchise, the punctuality and performance for Caledonian Sleeper have dipped substantially. But David Simpson, performance & safety director at Serco Caledonian Sleeper, told RTM’s Sam McCaffrey the figures aren’t what they seem.

The latest PPM figure for the Serco-run Caledonian Sleeper franchise, for Period 2 (3 May to 30 May 2015), is 91.7%, which is significantly lower than the 98.2% posted a year ago when the services were a part of ScotRail. However, it is an improvement on the 88.8% from April.

According to performance and safety director David Simpson, it’s usual for the numbers to fluctuate from period to period, especially as the franchise operates so few services.

“We measure seven trains a night which is 168 trains a period on a PPM target of 92%, which rises to 92.5% at the end of this control period. It doesn’t take many trains to be late in a period to miss that target,” he said.

“With all the small numbers it can only take a few small incidents to quickly knock trains beyond the PPM targets, and I think that’s what happened in periods 1 and 2 since we took over from ScotRail.”

One of the issues that can cause Caledonian Sleeper’s PPM figures to plummet is a delay to one of their services that splits into multiple trains serving different destinations.

Of the trains that run to and from London each night, one splits into two parts to serve Glasgow and Edinburgh, and another splits into three to serve Fort William, Inverness and Aberdeen.

“So if there’s a delay on the London to Edinburgh section on the train that splits into three parts that means the train can be late at all three destinations – which is three of our quota of 15 late trains per period just from one incident,” Simpson said.

Last period, 15 Sleeper trains missed their PPM targets, with the causes evenly split between Network Rail issues, delays caused by other operators and Serco’s own problems.

Of the operator’s own problems, the one contributing most to missed PPM targets is an issue with the new Class 92 locomotives, which haul the Mark 2 and Mark 3 British Rail coaches.

When it took over, Serco elected to move on from DB Schenker, which had been hauling the Sleeper coaches for more than a decade, and awarded the contract to GB Railfreight instead. This also meant a switch from Class 90s to GB Railfreight’s Class 92s and – from October on the non-electrified sections – a switch from Class 67s to Class 73/9s.

Under the new arrangement, refurbished Class 92 dual-voltage electric locomotives haul services south of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and failures with these have contributed to 20% of Caledonian Sleeper’s total missed PPM targets.

The problem with the locos is caused by two pieces of safety equipment meant to detect stray electrical currents and protect against their impact.

Simpson said: “The limits [for] those two pieces of kit are set quite tight, for good reason, and what we’ve found is that when the locomotives travel through neutral sections in the OLE [overhead line equipment] some of that protection has been tripping out, because it has recognised interface issues between the OLE and the loco. The procedure there is straightforward – the driver can reset the kit and travel on as normal – but that can cause delays and has and caused PPM miss at destination.”

The Class 92s were built for use through the Channel Tunnel and Serco believes that the levels at which this equipment is set is higher than is necessary for use on the main line network. The company is working with GB Railfreight at relaxing the level at which the protection is set.

“Now that has to go through Network Rail to be validated, which is absolutely right and proper, but there is a strong case for that and it should give us some additional resilience as we go forward,” Simpson said.

He added that so far in period 3, as of 17 June, they have had no PPM failures due to the issue so it appears it may be resolved.

“I’m confident that the 92s’ reliability has been growing. We do still have a Class 90 from DB Schenker as a backup that we use from time to time, but overall the Class 92 performance has been growing to where it needs to be to hit these demanding punctuality targets.”


Geoff Kerr   16/08/2015 at 21:54

During the last 3 years of the previous franchise, I made six journeys on the Highland Sleeper from and to Preston (a round trip to each of the three destinations) and two journeys were seriously delayed by loco failures - a 67 on the return from Fort William and an electric coming out of London. With their lower maximum speed, the 92s are less able to make up lost time.

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