The Caledonian Sleeper has revealed its long-awaited makeover.
The current fleet of trains, launched in the Eighties to transport people between London and Scotland overnight, has undergone a £150 million refurbishment and is now the only sleeper train in the world to offer double beds. Other modern features include reclining seats, free WiFi and a hotel-style keycard system.
Its first journey, which took passengers from Glasgow to Edinburgh, precedes the national roll-out which will launch at the end of May, operating between London and 40 Scottish stations; with tickets starting at £45 for seats and more than £400 for a room.
Managing director Ryan Flaherty described staff as being “beside ourselves with excitement”, adding: “There’s something quite magical about going to sleep at one end of the country and then waking up – whether it’s waking up in the capital in London, whether it’s waking up in the Highlands – it’s just a tremendous experience.”
Our own deputy editor Adrian Bridge, is no less enthused. “As one of Britain’s best loved rail routes – and one of only two night train services left – the Caledonian Sleeper has long occupied a special place in the nation’s travelling imagination,” he said. “This promises to continue with the keenly-awaited revamped compartments – and here at Telegraph Travel we look forward to putting them to the test.”
Of its atmosphere before the renovations, one Telegraph piece reads: “The ambience on board is convivial, with decent haggis and neeps, and malts available in the lounge bar. The train has traditionally been an old diesel that produced a nice rocking sound, running slow so customers needn’t get up at the crack of dawn.
“The real wonder of the trip is raising the blind – perhaps as brekky is delivered – to see the mountains in morning mist.”
Seventy-five new carriages will offer 484 rooms, first on the Lowlander route between London and Glasgow or Edinburgh; then also a Highlander route between London and Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William. Pets are welcome on board, as are bicycles.
The Caledonian Sleeper has changed a number of times since its first iteration was launched in 1873, and nearly went out of business in the Nineties when railways were privatised but was saved thanks to a public uproar.
Most recently it was acquired by British conglomerate Serco, on behalf of Transport Scotland, from the ScotRail franchise in 2015. Serco’s chief executive is Rupert Soames, grandson of Winston Churchill.
“My grandfather used the Sleepers, my parents used the Sleepers and one of my earliest memories is coming up to Scotland in the Sleeper and sleeping head to toe with my sister in the train,” he said at the launch. “It’s a wonderful way for families to travel.”
“They’ve been redesigned from the wheels up. It’s got double beds, it’s got single beds, bunk beds, we’ve got loos and showers en suite in the bedroom. We’ve then got this lounge bar which I think is going to be the centre of a lot of craic, a lot of fun.”
Prior to its overhaul, the Caledonian Sleeper had among the oldest fleet of British trains since records began. The only other sleeper train in the UK is the Night Riviera, which transports passengers between London and Penzance and is operated by Great Western Railway.
Elsewhere around the world, many celebrated sleeper services have been axed in favour of faster routes. In 2017, Michael Kerr wrote: “The regular sleeper (as opposed to tourist services run by companies such as Belmond) is inherently uneconomic. Where it traverses one territory, it is sometimes kept going for social and patriotic reasons; where it crosses international frontiers, it comes under the cold eyes of too many bean counters. Deserted by the middle classes, it is now the province of students and sentimentalists.”
Perhaps the Caledonian’s latest incarnation will prove to be an exception.
How to book
Reservations can be made up to 12 months in advance, starting from June 2. Visit sleeper.scot.
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