The Caledonian sleeper services are a Scottish institution, a symbol of the comfort and style which was once the hallmark of the railways. They are invaluable for connecting the more remote parts of the Highlands to the UK Capital, allowing Scottish people to reach morning meetings in England and Londoners to catch the Deerstalker Express straight to the most beautiful places in the world. I’ve lost count of the number of individuals & businesses who have been in touch over the years to tell me just how important the sleeper is to them.
However, like a bad penny, the question of cancelling the sleeper has rolled around once again. The SNP Government in Holyrood has launched a consultation on the future of Scotland’s railways. Typically of the SNP’s centralising attitude, the document is myopically focused on the central belt, even suggesting that all cross-border services could terminate at Edinburgh Waverley and that night-time services could be abandoned altogether. It shows a shocking level of disinterest in the Highlands and other rural areas of Scotland that the Nationalists are putting these proposals forward.
It’s true, of course, that the sleeper services need improvement. The booking system is unhelpful to say the least, making it difficult to book the service reliably, even months in advance. The rolling stock itself dates from the 1970s, rendering it unsuitable in the eyes of modern travellers and, more importantly, modern disabilities legislation. These are serious issues which require a serious response.
New trains could bring our sleeper services up to the standard of those on the continent, which can carry more passengers in greater comfort. This would not only improve the service, but bring it to a more sustainable position financially. Thankfully, the UK Government has made an offer of £50 million – half the cost of replacing the trains – to Holyrood, as long as the Scottish Government is willing to put up the rest of the funds. This gives us the opportunity to secure the future of the sleeper for decades ahead– it’s a chance we can’t afford to miss.
I’ll be fighting tooth and nail to save our sleeper, and I urge everyone to respond to the consultation before it closes on the 20th February, either online (at www.transportscotland.gov.uk) or by writing to Transport Scotland, 58 Port Dundas Road, Glasgow G4 0HF. Previous campaigns to retain the service have been successful, but only with hard work and commitment from campaigners around the country.
I believe we can win again this time if we stand together.