Published 18th February 2013
The Scottish Government has announced a package of measures to what they describe as to ‘protect Scottish rail service refranchising from the aftermath of Westminster’s West Coast Mainline debacle’. Scottish Transport Minister Keith Brown has announced a robust procurement process to secure the Scottish refranchising programme.
While the ScotRail franchising system is said to be sound, the current franchise will be extended by seven months to 31 March 2015 to allow time to understand the results of the many reviews into rail franchising at Westminster.
The Scottish Assembly Rail 2014 consultation has helped form the basis of future Scottish rail franchises based on responses to the consultation made last year.
Transport Minister Keith Brown said; “I am pleased to announce that I will be encouraging passengers, transport operators, local authorities and businesses to become involved in Community Rail Partnerships, which will help to shape the future of rail in their areas and throughout Scotland.
The ‘Caledonian Sleeper’ has a special place in Scotland’s heart and with £100 million of investment in upgrading the service, we will ensure we can make the most of our (Scottish Assembly) money and see the sleeper service restored to pride of place on Scotland’s railways.
We are still stifled by the powers held at Westminster and will continue to campaign for full control of our own railways as we will then be able to do so much more.”
This statement followed the provision of a £30million Stations Investment Fund for Scotland in addition to the £100million sleeper investment. Mr Brown has announced that the Sleepers will be offered as a separate 15 year franchise when the existing Scotrail franchise expires which will maximise the £100million investment also announced for this service.
First Scotrail has operated the Anglo-Scottish sleepers under ‘the ‘Caledonian Sleeper’ brand since October 2004 and the Scottish Assembly (SA) has decided that these highly political trains should be operated as a franchise in their own right.
The sleepers were thought to have reached the end of their life in 1994 when privatisation split UK rail services into 26 franchises. But the Government didn’t understand the political angle that supported the continuation of the overnight trains and the economic damage their loss would bring to remote Scottish areas.
To make the sleepers a more viable proposition, the services were amalgamated into a pair of services running every night from the four that operated under the latter stages of British Rail.
The Edinburgh and Glasgow services were combined, as were the Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William services. The two Caledonian Sleepers operate every night except Saturdays and currently form part of the ScotRail franchise operated by First Group.
The ‘Lowland Sleeper’ links London, Glasgow and Edinburgh with trains merging or splitting at Carstairs depending on if a north or southbound service. The longer distance destinations are served by The ‘Highland Sleeper’ runs in three portions to and from Edinburgh to Fort William, Inverness and Aberdeen.
Between Edinburgh and London, the train runs as one service and is the longest passenger service in the UK today. The ‘Highland Sleeper’ calls at 36 stations across the Highlands providing a direct link with London.
The Caledonian Sleeper uses 66 vehicles every night with daily servicing and maintenance carried out in Glasgow, London, Aberdeen and Fort William. Heavy maintenance is carried out in Inverness and careful rostering must be made to ensure each carriage gets to Inverness in line with its maintenance schedule every eight days. The current services cost around £21 million a year plus track access costs.
The Caledonian Sleeper carriages were built around 40 years ago and are still safe and operationally sound. It has received cosmetic improvements but now passenger expectations are higher than ever before and the facilities and accommodation offered need improving if the train is to remain in service.
This could mean providing en-suite accommodation, the toilets are at the end of each carriage at the moment, but this would significantly reduce the number of berths available and would require better on-board water and power supplies. Consideration was given to a whole range of options ranging between slimming down the services to extending them to places like Oban.
This sleeper franchise option may enable greater commercial opportunities for the service provider and facilitate investment in the fleet. As a specialised service, it may benefit from more focused and specialised management. A sleeper-only franchise service could also attract new entrants with innovative ideas to the rail franchise market
The sleeper franchise is likely to be a contract in excess of £200 million while the revised ten year ScotRail franchise will operate internal Scottish rail passenger services and could have a total value of over £2.5 billion.
Two separate procurement exercises will now be run for the main ScotRail franchise and another for the Caledonian Sleeper contract and will commence in the next few months.
Written by Phil Marsh contributing author.