Caledonian Sleeper: a railway icon re-imagined

Source: RTM Feb/March 2019

The world-renowned Caledonian Sleeper, due to begin operations at the end of spring 2019, completed its first Scotland to London journey earlier this year. Ryan Flaherty, Serco’s managing director for Caledonian Sleeper, tells more about the project.

Since taking over the Caledonian Sleeper franchise in the first half of 2015, the overnight service between London and Scotland has gone from strength to strength. Our overriding focus has been on improving the guest experience – from ensuring a good night’s sleep, to showcasing the best of Scotland’s food and drink, to creating lounges at key stations.

We have made tremendous progress, but the best is yet to come. By the end of this spring, we will begin to introduce our fleet of new trains – a huge milestone in the Sleeper’s proud history and one that is five years in the making.

From the outset, we were determined to create new carriages rather than refurbishing our current stock. Our vision was to create a unique product, one that delivered everything the modern traveller needs while still having the timeless aspect that people expect from sleeper trains.

We feel that we have achieved exactly that. Our new accommodation options include the Caledonian Double (double bed with en-suite), Club Room (twin or single with en-suite), Classic Room (twin or single), Accessible Rooms (twin or double), and Comfort Seats. The inclusion of rooms with double beds and an en-suite toilet and shower is particularly exciting, and something that we believe will appeal to a wide range of business and leisure travellers.

Caledonian Double, Caledonian Sleeper

A host of new features have been included, such as a hotel-style key card entry system, upgraded panels for phone and gadget charging, and WiFi. Our Club Car has been re-imagined, too. A new galley kitchen opens up a world of possibilities for the food we serve on board, and I have no doubt that the guests will see a marked difference in the quality of their meals – an impressive feat as our food is already one of the most popular elements of the service.

These changes have been made possible due to an investment of more than £100m, part-funded by a £60m capital grant from the Scottish Government. A total of 75 Mk5 carriages are being built as part of our new trains programme, with manufacturer CAF carrying out the build in Spain.

As this is the first introduction of new sleeper rolling stock in the UK for more than 35 years, the process of testing and gaining the necessary regulatory and operating approvals is time-consuming and complex.

To date, more than two thirds of our carriages have made the trip from Spain to Alstom’s depot on the outskirts of Glasgow. The first batch of carriages arrived in the UK at the start of 2018 with static and locomotive interface testing being followed with dynamic testing.

In January, our testing programme reached a significant milestone when 16 carriages travelled from Scotland to London Euston – a journey our trains will soon be making six nights a week.

Throughout all of this, we’ve been raising anticipation ahead of launch. We've given the public an insight into the new trains, hosting virtual reality events at Glasgow Central and Edinburgh Waverley. Developed in partnership with Soluis, this immersive experience allowed people to glimpse the future of overnight travel – a future that is almost here.

Overall, this has perhaps been the most complex introduction of new rolling stock ever undertaken in the UK, with five different accommodation types as well as on board catering, dining, and shower facilities.

And yet, while it has not been easy, I have no doubt that it will have been worth the wait. The Caledonian Sleeper is, for me, the best way to travel between London and Scotland. Not only do we combine travel with overnight accommodation, we offer guests a truly timeless experience – and our new trains will help bring that touch of magic back to people's journeys. I cannot wait to introduce the world to the reimagined Caledonian Sleeper.

New Sleeper carriages at Euston (1)


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