Caledonian Sleeper, via Istock

Nationalisation awakes potential in the Caledonian Sleeper

After failing to live up to expectations, the Caledonian Sleeper rail service is set to be nationalised by the Scottish Government, as announced at the end of last week.

This radical move will see the reigns removed from current operator Serco, following minister’s decisions last year to terminate the existing contract seven years earlier than expected. Originally contracted until 2030, the existing franchise was a deal valued at £800m, this termination will see the services plunged into public ownership from the end of June, mirroring a similar decision that saw Abellio’s ScotRail franchise being terminated in 2022.

The Caledonian Sleeper services have existed in numerous iterations since its inception in 1873, covering a breadth of stations across the Scottish Highlands, including the likes of Inverness, Aberdeen, Glasgow among various others, before culminating in London.

With the decision to terminate Serco’s contract coming swiftly after a failed attempt to renegotiate the terms of the deal, the services will now be overseen by the public body, Scottish Rail Holdings (SRH).

Announcing the news, Scottish Minister Jenny Gilruth commented, saying:

“From 25 June this year, the Caledonian Sleeper service will be provided by an arm’s-length company of the Scottish Government, in line with our duty as operator of last resort.”

Further expanding on this announcement Ms Gilruth argued that this move would offer “stability and certainty” for the staff and passengers alike, going on to say that the decision has not been a “reflection on the quality of the product that has been developed, nor on the commitment of the staff who deliver this service every day.”

Accompanying such a major shakeup for one of the Scottish rail sector’s premier services, there are natural concerns relating to job security for the existing staff that oversee the day-to-day operations.

Commenting on this, Ms Gilruth was quick to assert that:

“The decision will provide a stable platform for the provision of Sleeper services, and it will also provide certainty for staff and, of course, the travelling public.

“I would like to make it very clear that the Caledonian Sleeper staff will transfer to the Scottish government-owned entity, with their terms and conditions protected.”

As is always the case with major decisions, such as the nationalisation of this service, there are staunch supporters of and avid detractors, with one notable name being Scottish Conservative transport spokesperson Graham Simpson, who bemoaned the decision, saying:

“The minister agreed that the sleeper has surpassed any other train company in the UK in its recovery from the pandemic and was thriving and a world class service.

“Given all that, there can be no conclusion other than that this is an ideological decision. Jenny Gilruth said nothing about how this world class service can be improved under the Scottish government.”

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