Published: 31 May 2014
Transport Scotland (TS) has announced that Serco Group plc the well-known international service company has been awarded the right to manage the 15-year Caledonian sleeper service franchise. This will be split from the Scotrail franchise when the new contract commences in April 2015 when Serco takes responsibility for operating all aspects of the Anglo-Scottish sleeper services.
They will be overseeing commercial activities, passenger services, station facilities and fleet maintenance and eventually will be introducing a new sleeping car fleet. Transport Scotland wants to revamp the service which uses 30-year old sleeper carriages and will be investing over £100million procuring new rolling stock which they say will transform the service with innovative changes.
The trains which were initially axed under privatisation plans 20 years ago were subject to huge political pressure because they offer a vital connection between London and Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Fort William, Glasgow, Inverness calling at many other towns and villages in remoter parts of Scotland.
The franchise is expected to generate £800million for Serco up to 2030 when the contract expires. Around £180million will be in the form of franchise payments and a “gain share agreement” is contained within the deal to incentivise promised performance improvements.
The new overnight trains are anticipated to be in service in three years time (summer 2018) and reflecting Scottish Ministers’ aspirations, the trains will be part-funded to the tune of a £60m capital grant from them. The trains will be built by the Spanish company CAF and leased to Serco by Beacon Rail.
Passengers are promised ‘significant improvements’ including en-suite berths, Pod Flatbeds used for the first time in rail, and a brasserie-style Club Car. A new website is promised offering a broader range of fares, as is earlier boarding of the trains and the ability to manage their journey virtually and what TS says “the use of many other new service features.”
Similar facilities were also promised on the doomed European Night Sleeper trains 20 years ago linking the UK with Europe but the trains consumed too much power and were incorrectly built by Alstom. Modern technology has overcome the power supply issues to service on-train facilities and CAF build trains the right size!
The thrust of the new service will be to create an outstanding hospitality service that is emblematic of the best of Scotland. Serco will improve significantly the guest service using Scotland’s extensive transport and tourism experience in partnership with Scottish hotel business Inverlochy Castle Management International (ICMI) and the Michelin-starred chef Albert Roux OBE KFO.
Serco says it will promote and support Scottish enterprise by sourcing local products and produce from small and medium-sized businesses. These changes, combined with the new commercial activity are expected to provide greater market penetration and growth in passenger numbers from UK residents and international tourists.
Rupert Soames, Serco Group Chief Executive Officer, said: "Serco has a strong track record of providing high quality and efficient rail services around the world, as well as experience in managing large-scale tourism-focussed transport services. I am delighted that we can use this unique blend of expertise to transform the iconic Caledonian Sleeper into a modern, high quality hospitality service to make Scotland proud.
Serco has a very constructive relationship with many parts of Scottish Government and already operates essential public transport and many other services. With 3,000 Serco employees living and working in Scotland, we are tremendously excited to be delivering these new developments and meeting the vision of Transport Scotland."
The current Caledonian Sleeper trains are operated by First Scotrail as part of the ScotRail Franchise with DB Schenker providing and operating the locomotives on behalf of First ScotRail Limited. Currently, the services are split into two; The Lowland Sleeper runs between Euston and Glasgow and Edinburgh and the Highland Sleeper links Euston with Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William.
Serco may seem a curious choice but they are partners in several franchises already such as Merseyrail and Northern services. They also operate the Docklands Light Railway in London.
The award means that DB Schenker has lost a large chunk of business thought to be over £20million and that Direct Rail Services who were also bidding have lost more traffic they expected to win.
It is not yet clear who will be operating the trains using what locomotives but it is understood that GB Railfreight could be arranging this side of the operation. Time will tell!