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"The Caledonian Sleeper" by Peter Strachan, Managing Director, Serco Caledonian Sleeper - Glasgow meeting of 8 December 2015

Launched on 31 March 2015 as a free-standing franchise, the Caledonian Sleepers link London six nights a week with five Scottish destinations. Serco was been chosen by the Scottish Government as the operator, with a vision for the Sleeper to be a modern, revitalised overnight travel and hospitality experience. From 2018, the Caledonian Sleeper will take a leap forward thanks to an investment of over £100M in 75 new state-of-the-art carriages. Other improvements now in hand include installation of guest information totems at each of the 48 stops, onward travel information and free station WiFi access for all guests.

Mr.Peter Strachan, Managing Director, Serco Caledonian Sleeperd

Mr. Peter Strachan, Managing Director, Serco Caledonian Sleeper.

© John Yellowlees 2015

Peter Strachan, Managing Director, Serco Caledonian Sleeper gave an in-depth presentation to the Schottish Region's Glasgow meeting. John Yellowlees reports.

Serco are one of the world's leading service companies, operating over 700 businesses across 50 countrieds. They design, deliver and manage change in the private sector, defence, health, science and transport, improving essential services while enhancing commrercial knowhow and developing the people who are key to their suucess. Overseas operations include trains and metros in Dubai and Qatar, a Saudi train contract that includes a Sleeper, and a ferry in Stockholm. Transport operations in Britain include a part-share in Merseyrail, Northlink ferries, Boris Bikes and rail test services at Old Dalby. Scottish contracts include Scatsta Airport, RN support vessels, Forth Valley Royal and Wishaw Hospitals and Kilmarnock Prison.

Serco's ambition for the Sleeper is to provide a flagship service with an iconic offer of an exceptional hospitality experience worthy of being called a "hotel on wheels". The Caledonian Sleeper is a 15-year franchise running six nights a week serving 48 stations by five portions that split and join at Edinburgh and Carstairs and carry 270k passengers each year. Although there have been no Sleepers on Saturday nights for many years because of weekend engineering, this possibility might be worth revisiting in connection with sporting or other events.

Loadings are 6% ahead of last year in volume, reflecting the uplift in the economy and maybe the halo effect from last year's Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup. The rise is seen across Scotland, and did not tail off after the summer. This side of the debut for the new trains now on order, the franchise aims through partnerships to make an impact by transforming the guest experience, simplifying bookings and the website, by making station enhancements and creating an exemplary Scottish business.

Traction partner GBRf aims to replace DBS Class 67s on the diesel legs with refurbished Class 73/9s which are 30% more fuel-efficient. The plan was to use Class 92s designed as mixed-traffic locos for the Channel Tunnel, but this has not worked out so these have been temporarily replaced by Class 90s hired in from the freight companies. Heritage electric locos 87002 and 86101 are used mainly to move empty stock at the London end, and Deltic diesel 55022 has once done so in Scotland.

The Mark III berth vehicles introduced in 1978 after the Taunton fire are showing their age, and the Mark 11 lounge cars and club-brakes are even older and the latter suffered this autumn with wheel-flats. After a tweak of the price-bucket, the seated accommodation has sold really well, remaining full until mid-November, and the lounge car is often full - it could run three sittings on the Highlander out of Euston - yet relies on just two microwaves. Maintenance partners are Alstom at Polmadie and Wembley for the MkIIIs, Abellio ScotRail at Inverness for light maintenance of the MkIIs and Knorr-Bremse at Springburn for their heavy maintenance.

Hospitality supply partners are RSF Dingwall which started off as a dedicated 2-person SME and has now expanded to 10 employees with more than 50% sales to other customers, Arran Aromatics for toiletries, Ten 30 Design, Glencraft, Aberdeen Laundry and Food & Drink Hub (Scotland) Ltd. The franchise is starting the transformation by benchmarking its hospitality service with a change in the bed-linen provision to duvets from Aberdeen Library and a sleepover kit that includes a pillowspray but currently lacks a toothbrush and razor.

The new menu offers smoked salmon in both evening and morning : the popularity of Rannoch smokery duck salad shows that people are prepared to pay for quality, and Peter's particular favourite is sponge pudding. The new website offers theatre-style booking allowing people to pick their own berth, which reveals that some want to be over a bogie for proximity to the toilet or lounge-car. A new guest-centre is across the road from Inverness Station so as to avoid any involvement in its redevelopment, and is open until 1000 and from 1830, being available for hire during the day. A similar improvement is being sought at Perth, and a dedicated bus now takes St Andrews customers to and from Leuchars.

Seventy five new coaches on order from CAF in Spain are due to be in service by April 2018. Scottish designer Ian Smith is leading the interior design, and there will be four types of accommodation. Cradle seats will recline with footrests, offering secure storage of personal belongings in a bin locked by a key. Pod flatbeds will be liked by business travellers because they will offer a reading light and a luggage store. There will as now be non-suite bunks but also the new option of en-suite berths, both solo and twin with intercom, improved hot and cold water supplies and a lockable safe with a storage area for luggage. The new club car will seat a minimum of 26, offering a library and games.

In conclusion Serco seeks to transform the Caledonian Sleeper from a mere train journey of the sort that is now at risk across Europe into a hospitality experience which by forging innovative partnerships reinvigorates it to command recognition as one of Scotland's key strategic services.

Report and photograph by John Yellowlees.


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