Published 6th August 2013
Thirty years ago, British Rail revamped their sleeper service between London and Cornwall but twenty years ago, it was ironically under threat from rail privatisation which was designed to promote competition and rail use. These nightmares are well and truly over now as First Great Western, (FGW) operators of ‘The Night Riviera’ recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of the train with some on-board surprises for passengers travelling on the anniversary service recently.
The sleeper service was named and re-launched by British Rail as the Night Riviera on July 11 1983 and FGW has run the service since 2006. The 30th anniversary was marked with a special anniversary cake and a glass of Camel Valley Brut from Cornwall offered to every passenger.
David Crome, General Manager West for First Great Western said:
"First Great Western is committed to supporting the communities we serve and we recognise the vital role that our sleeper service plays in that. Alongside our Pullman Dining experience we are proud of the sleeper's heritage and look forward to maintaining and improving services, keeping people moving in these increasingly congested times."
Two million pounds was spent five years ago when the fleet of 17 sleeper carriages received a new interior décor, lighting and equipped with better quality linens and towels. The seating area was refurbished with re-upholstered first class-style seating offering a more comfortable, relaxed atmosphere.
Last year the old style blankets were replaced with duvets for the first time and rather than throwing out the still very usable blankets, they were donated to charities.
Following publicity about the various privatised rail era scares about sleeper services being withdrawn, their future has now been guaranteed. The debate centred on that for Cornish travellers, there was no way to get to London for a morning business meeting or to return to Cornwall after an evening out in London.
This was followed with a ‘use it or lose it’ campaign which has seen the Night Riviera’s passenger numbers increase by 10% year on year since 2008. The service now carries 30,000 passengers a year while in total, FGW carries just under 100 million passengers annually.
The service's future was assured by the Secretary of State for Transport in June 2012, when it was confirmed that it was to be included in future franchise tenders. This is still the case despite the summer 2102 franchise fiasco which has led to FGW’s franchise being extended.
The Night Riviera runs on weekday nights from Paddington departing at 23.45, Reading at 0037hrs and sets down at most stations from Plymouth to Penzance arriving at 0753. The service to Paddington departs Penzance at 2145hrs and picks up at stations to Totnes arriving at Paddington at 0523hrs but passengers can stay in their berths until 7am.
For enthusiasts, the train is Class 57 hauled and these locomotives have been named after ‘Castles’ following in the Great Western Railway’s tradition of their ‘Castle Class’ powerful steam 4-6-0 locomotives.
Written by Cliff Thomas