It has become a tradition with Railcam that Model Rail Scotland is too good an opportunity for the senior admins to get together for a catch-up. With Railcam being a national site it’s fair to assume that the admins are as scattered as the cameras. This being the case 7 of us traveled on the Caledonian Sleeper to reach our colleagues, friends and fellow admins.
Not being one to miss an opportunity I contacted Caledonian Sleeper and asked if they could assist or had any objections to a feature article for our supporters.
I am always delighted when dealing with PR departments of TOCS. They tend to be very nice, chatty, accommodating and proud of both their own brand as well as the railway in general. Of course, they agreed but sadly things didn’t go quite to plan….
We had been offered early access to the set of mark 5 CAF built sleeper coaches and duly arrived half an hour ahead of check in to do a walk through with the cameras and notebooks. So far so good! While others waited patiently behind the barriers we were ushered through and greeted by duty manager Colin Jackson.
Colin is just what you would expect, a fine ambassador for the Serco owned sleeper. Chatty, friendly and welcoming before sharing the bad news. The new stock has been beset with so many issues since last year’s introduction and it is very sad to say that some of those issues are still on-going.
At this stage, the computers weren’t communicating and the whole 1/4 mile train had to be shut down and rebooted a number of times. Nobody was sure what the problem was but, after conversations with some of the on-board staff, this isn’t unusual with water and electrical failures still commonplace.
Quite clearly Jamie and I were both unable and unwilling to board the train while staff worked on solving the issues. That would have been completely unfair and so instead I had a half-mile walk up and down the platform and shared a Facebook Live instead.
By the time we got back to Colin, it was clear that this was potentially turning into a situation where the service may well be canceled altogether. He wasn’t sure what was happening with it being unclear if the issue was stock or locomotive related. All he could say was that people were desperately working to solve the problem.
Now not all of the Caledonian Sleeper problems are down to the stock. Initial teething problems, brake issues and failures gave the “All-New Hotel on Rails” a bad start. Those times seem to have passed for the main part and the more recent problems were with the GBRF operated class 92 locomotives and Network Rail delays.
Caledonian Sleeper operates both the Highland and Lowland services with each train being made up of 16 coaches when departing Euston. The Highland service departs first, splitting into 3 at Edinburgh before continuing on to Inverness, Aberdeen and Fort William. The Lowland service serves Glasgow and Edinburgh. The new stock is PRM compliant and has space for a number of wheelchair users.
By now we had been joined by passengers expecting to be boarded and sat enjoying a nightcap in the lounge car. Far from a late-night tipple, we were all stood waiting behind the barriers. There were a few grumbles as always but Colin did regular visits through the group to explain as best he could.
My professional qualifications are in Hotel Management and if Caledonian Sleeper wishes to market themselves as a hotel on rails they need to up their game. You just can not leave customers and guests as they should now be referred to, stood on a cold platform for over an hour! Get your hosts off the warm train and down with those guests offering a warm drink at the very least. Communication and service are key in the hotel industry and never would you expect to be locked outside of a hotel feeling second rate.
The sleeper is an expensive way to travel. If you have berths booked, especially the higher-end ones now available, the cost will exceed the flight alternative. Make this an experience that those guests wish to repeat because it’s a taste of the old-fashioned luxury experience.
After an hour of standing around with Colin doing his best, the lights flickered on the train and optimism returned! Were we about to get the nod to board? Another ten minutes and we were off down the platform finding our coaches and hosts to book in with.
We all had the classic berth. Very small, narrow bunk-beds and quite claustrophobic if you struggle in confined spaces. If you are sharing a berth, you will struggle to pass each other on the way to the sink so bear that in mind when booking.
The club and double berths offer more room I believe but sadly we weren’t able to have a look due to the earlier problems. It’s certainly worth considering an upgrade but this will always come down to value for money.
The berths are very modern. USB and sockets are plentiful. Reading lights and complimentary water and night pack containing an eye mask, ear-plugs, and soap. It’s an improvement on the old dated stock but I just can’t allow myself to call it a hotel in the classic berth.
We gathered in the Lounge-car for our late night and long-awaited tipple. One side of the car is given over to booths for 2, 4 or 5 travelers while the opposite side has stools and a crocodile tooth bench for single guests. A small menu is available if required and a host, the lovely Nancy in our case, will collect and deliver your orders to your seat. I believe there is an at-seat service available in the seated coaches also.
The Lounge-car is very brightly lit and the seatbacks are rather high which for me didn’t quite work for a relaxed atmosphere. When I wandered down the train at 2 am the lighting was dimmed and it was much better.
While we sadly couldn’t do our run-through, I did have a brief opportunity to take some phone shots when I covered the Aberdeen Azuma launch. This is as much as I can offer at present but the seated coaches do look reasonably comfortable for the journey and over-head lockable storage is available for your valuables.
We departed Euston around half an hour late but at least we were on our way. Everyone then wandered off to their berths for what we hoped would be a comfortable night’s sleep before waking in Glasgow refreshed and raring to go.
That may have been the plan but… I certainly couldn’t get to sleep. Maybe I’m not used to being confined in a 2ft 6 bunk? maybe it was the claustrophobic feeling and unfamiliarity? I put it down to one of those things and headed off to chat with Nancy in the Lounge-car who kindly offered me a coffee and a chat about her experience as a sleeper host over the years.
After calling at Preston around 4.20 am I decided to move back to the berth and leave the staff to set up for breakfast. This is not included in classic but can be ordered if desired. We did get a coffee and biscuits delivered though which did me just fine.
We arrived into Glasgow on time and we gathered on the platform until our number was complete. It wasn’t until this point that we discussed our sleeper experience as a group. None of us had slept well if at all. The only thing we could put it down to was the ride of the mark 5 coaches. Many of the team have made this journey before but not on the new stock.
When sleeping on a train you expect a few bumps and bangs along with that unusual feeling of movement but this was quite telling. I’ve had discussions with other writers and it would appear that the general consensus within the industry press is that while the investment and standard of the new stock are welcome, the ride just isn’t as good. Do let us have your feedback if you have an opinion you wish to share.
I do try to travel on a service a few times before making up my mind and so if Caledonian Sleeper wishes to invite me back anytime I’ll gladly give an update.
Overall? It’s not a hotel on wheels… yet. It’s not cheap but if you can upgrade to a larger berth then do so. Cleanliness is excellent. Facilities excellent, staff fantastic, punctuality is mixed due to departure and waiting issue but we did arrive on time, comfort average. Overall I’ll give the service a 7/10 which would be around an over-priced 3 star hotel with room for improvement in some areas.
Our thanks of course to the Caledonian sleeper team for accommodating us and being open to all we asked.
My apologies for the delay in publishing this but Sadly I have been unwell and am behind in my reporting.
The RMT Union has today announced that the planned strikes on South Western Railway, on Monday 9, Tuesday 10, Thursday 12 & Friday 13 March, have been suspended.
A spokesperson for South Western Railway said, “We are pleased for our customers and colleagues that next week’s strikes have been suspended, we hope that we can now find a solution to bring a permanent end to this dispute for everyone’s sake.
“We are now working hard to reinstate the full timetable for next week.”
Greater Anglia today announced its support for a new campaign aimed at helping people with disabilities travel on trains more easily.
The Department for Transport has launched ‘it’s everyone’s journey’ – an advertising campaign to highlight how everyone can play a part in making public transport inclusive.
The campaign uses animation with animal characters as a visual cue to suggest that often unconscious behaviour can affect others and to show what they can do to be more considerate to other passengers, especially those with additional needs.
Greater Anglia, along with other transport providers nationally, will support the campaign on its social media channels and with adverts on trains and at some stations.
Rebecca Richardson, Greater Anglia’s Accessibilty Manager, said, “We’re working hard to ensure that everyone can have an enjoyable journey with us.
“We’re fully committed to making our railway more accessible. We’ve set up a training programme, delivered by wheelchair-users to show our staff how they can improve their service to customers with disabilities.
“We’re introducing all new trains, with improved access and facilities for disabled people.”
“This campaign also reminds us all of the need to be compassionate and courteous and we are very happy to support it.”
Department for Transport research has shown that behaviours that make public transport a daunting place for disabled people are often unconscious, such as not looking out for a fellow passenger who might need a seat or be in distress.
‘it’s everyone’s journey’ will raise awareness about the needs of disabled people when using public transport, particularly people with non-visible impairments, and will also prompt members of the public to think and consider how their behaviour might impact others.
To follow the conversation follow @IEJGov or #ItsEveryonesJourney on Twitter.
Grand Central has announced it has signed a lease with Blackpool Council and work has now started on the 2,500sq ft site at No. 1 Bickerstaffe Square. The space will be Grand Central’s flagship traincrew hub to service its new North West to London Euston route.
The ground floor unit, next to Blackpool North railway station, will house 50 Grand Central staff and is part of the 1.1 million sq ft mixed-use flagship Talbot Gateway regeneration development. The first batch of new recruits for the rail operator has already begun training in a temporary space at Bickerstaffe Square.
The traincrew hub, which has been leased until 2026, will be the base for Grand Central employees – including train drivers, senior conductors, customer services assistants and management.
When it opens next month, facilities will include office space, a training room, briefing room, quiet room, booking on point, kitchen, toilets and breakout area.
There will also be an internal garden with outdoor seating for staff to use and the building also boasts a communal bike park allowing employees to cycle to work, a drying room and shower facilities.
A number of car parking spaces have also been leased from the Talbot Road car park directly opposite the depot for the use of staff.
Garry Clark, depot manager for Grand Central, said: “Bickerstaffe Square is a fantastic space and it’s really exciting to see our staff facilities taking shape. We can’t wait to move into our new home and it’s brilliant to know that we are playing a part in regenerating the area around the railway station and Talbot Road.
“We have a track record of supporting local communities in and around our network and we believe the launch of our new route from the North West to London Euston in 2020 will prove to be a major boost to the local economy.”
Cllr Mark Smith, Blackpool Council’s Cabinet Member for Business, Enterprise and Job Creation, said: “We are delighted to welcome Grand Central Rail to Bickerstaffe and wish the team every success in their new hub.
“The Talbot Gateway project represents a wonderful opportunity for businesses to develop and thrive in Blackpool town centre. The new unit, along with Grand Central’s upcoming route from Blackpool North to London Euston, will provide a great boost to the local infrastructure.”
In a move which is expected to bring significant economic benefits to the North West – including a boost to tourism, Grand Central announced a new route from Blackpool North to London Euston last June.
From later in 2020, Grand Central will operate up to five new direct train services to run every day of the week between Blackpool North and London Euston. Blackpool will gain direct services to London on Sundays, as well as later trains to and from the capital Monday to Saturday.
Poulton-le-Fylde and Kirkham & Wesham will each have new direct London services throughout the day, seven days a week. All trains will also call at Preston and Nuneaton, with most also stopping additionally at Milton Keynes, connecting leisure and business travellers to the capital and offering a choice of operator and great value fares.
Grand Central is in the final stages of recruiting the onboard staff it needs for its Blackpool traincrew hub, including drivers and customer service advisors. For more information and to apply visit www.grandcentralrail.com/careers
Northern Trains Limited has today announced that a new Managing Director will be at the helm of the company as it moves into public ownership.
From today, senior rail executive, Nick Donovan, joins Northern Trains as Managing Director. Mr Donovan is the independent Chair of the Network Performance Board and successfully led TransPennine Express from 2011-2015.
For the last two years, Nick has been advising the ScotRail Alliance on train service performance and before that worked on making the case for Northern Powerhouse Rail. He was interim Engineering Director at Arriva Rail North in 2016.
Robin Gisby, Chairman of Northern Trains and CEO of the public sector operator, DOHL, said: “Nick’s widespread experience, leadership of TPE and his role as Chair of the industry’s National Performance Board has given him a first-class insight into all the issues and challenges we face, not just as Northern but for all operators across the Northern region.
“Given the current circumstances and environment we are operating in, I am very confident that Nick is the right person to lead the business going forward.
“David Brown has faced some very difficult challenges during his time leading the Northern business. I have now asked David to move across to our holding company where we can explore other senior level opportunities and retain his skills and experience. We should all take this opportunity to acknowledge David’s significant contribution to the Northern Franchise over the last two and a half years.
“Our priority over the coming weeks will be to stabilise performance whilst continuing to deliver existing projects including the introduction of new trains. Over the next 100 days, we will push forward with a widespread review of the business and its operations to ensure that we can and will deliver the improvements that Northern’s passengers deserve.”
On 1st March 2020, the government operator took over the running of services across the Northern network. Yesterday it was also announced that a new stakeholder panel will be put in place to provide ongoing strategic advice on the issues that impact on the operator. Political leaders, including Andy Burnham from Manchester and Judith Blake from Leeds, will be joined by regional leaders, passenger representatives and industry leaders on the panel.
Further plans and announcements from the new Managing Director of Northern will be made over the next 100 days as the leadership prepares its ambitious plans to improve the service for passengers of Northern and the North of England.
Government operator takes over running of services on Northern network today, Sunday 1 March
Northern leaders from Manchester, Liverpool, Tees Valley and Yorkshire will join panel to advise new operator on priorities for new Northern franchise
Operator will work with local leaders, industry and passenger representatives to deliver a plan for improvements after first 100 days
Today (Sunday 1 March), the Government has taken over the running of services across the Northern network, marking a new start for the future of the franchise.
Demonstrating the Government’s commitment to rebuild passenger confidence, and put their priorities first, the government operator has launched a new panel to provide ongoing advice on how services will be run. Political leaders, including Andy Burnham from Manchester and Judith Blake from Leeds, will be joined by regional leaders, passenger representatives and industry leaders on the panel, which will be led by Richard George, the chairman of the operator.
The Government has also announced that overcrowding on Northern’s network will be a priority focus for improvement, with new technology being trialled to identify crowding pinch points. Work is underway to extend platforms at 30 stations across the network to allow for longer trains and improve journeys for passengers.
Capacity will be further boosted with the roll-out of more electric trains across the network next year, in addition to the extra capacity already being delivered by the new fleet. A major deep cleaning program has also commenced today, along with an overhaul of on-board cleanliness, to make sure carriages meet the high standards passengers deserve.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said:
“This is new era for rail in the North, but there will be no quick fix for the network as we build solutions for the future.
“Today marks the beginning of rebuilding of trust in these services, and voices from the region will be essential as we work together to understand and deliver the improvements passengers need.
“Our aim is to give the North of England more powers over their railways, restoring the confidence of passengers and delivering a network they can truly rely on.”
Chairman of the government’s operator, Richard George said:
“The panel announced today will play a crucial strategic role as we look to transform services across Northern’s network, putting the needs of passengers first.
“By collaborating with local leaders, we’re taking a step towards reconnecting the railways with the people of the North. We need to improve performance and also provide passengers and their elected representatives with the confidence that their concerns are being addressed.”
The Transport Secretary has tasked the operator with delivering a new vision for the North’s railways, restoring confidence for passengers and delivering tangible improvements, but has made clear that the complexity of the challenge means transformation will not take place overnight.
The leadership of the government operator will be using the first 100 days running services to prepare an ambitious plan, consulting with passengers and leaders across the North to understand their priorities, and leaving no stone unturned in their efforts to improve the service for passengers.
As announced by the Secretary of State for Transport in January, the Northern franchise will change on Sunday 1 March.
Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, said:
“The Northern franchise change is an opportunity for all parts of the industry to work differently to deliver the services people need and want. Urgent reform is needed to make sure different parts of the railway aren’t pulled in different directions again. Our proposals to the government’s review would boost accountability, ensure all parts of the railway are joined up and better deliver for passengers in the long term. The industry is looking forward to the proposed white paper to reform the railway and we stand ready to facilitate smooth implementation with a clear focus on customers.”
The Welsh Government has expressed its disappointment after stations on the Wales & Borders network have missed out on UK Government funding, describing it as “the UK Government’s failure to deliver the investment they are responsible for.”
The Welsh Government has also said it is in the early stages of considering alternative funding arrangements for stations that have not been selected.
On 26th February the UK Government confirmed investment in accessibility improvements in rail stations in Great Britain. Ruabon, Haverfordwest and Whitchurch (Shropshire) were all endorsed by the Welsh Government, but have not been selected by the UK Government in the final funding allocations.
Additional regional accessibility improvements at a further 30 stations were endorsed by the Welsh Government but declined by the UK Government.
The schemes selected were lift additions at Grangetown, Llantwit Major (2), Pontypool and Neath, all through joint funding from the Department for Transport, Transport for Wales, and third party funding (for example local authorities).
Part of Transport for Wales’ funding offer could be used to help schemes that have not been selected, though it may have to meet additional costs from approved schemes. The Welsh Government and Transport for Wales are in discussions over this issue.
Ken Skates, Economy, Transport and North Wales Minister, commented:
“It is disappointing that the UK Government has decided to invest in just 4 of the 7 projects we had promoted and offered to match fund.
“I have therefore asked Transport for Wales and rail industry partners to urgently consider the scope for using the matched funding commitment we offered to progress step free access at the excluded stations, under our own direct investment. This is because of the U.K. Government’s failure to deliver the investment they are responsible for.
“Stations with strong community support for step free upgrades have been excluded from funding. Unfortunately it is another example where passengers are set feel the effect of the UK Government’s continuing underinvestment in Welsh railways.”
“Meanwhile, I am pleased that work will go ahead at the four successful stations.”
Mae Llywodraeth Cymru wedi mynegi ei siom ar ôl i Lywodraeth y DU benderfynu peidio â rhoi arian i orsafoedd ar rwydwaith Cymru a’r Gororau, gan ei ddisgrifio fel “methiant Llywodraeth y DU i ddarparu’r buddsoddiad y maent yn gyfrifol amdano.”
Mae Llywodraeth Cymru wedi mynegi ei siom ar ôl i Lywodraeth y DU benderfynu peidio â rhoi arian i orsafoedd ar rwydwaith Cymru a’r Gororau, gan ei ddisgrifio fel “methiant Llywodraeth y DU i ddarparu’r buddsoddiad y maent yn gyfrifol amdano.”
Mae Llywodraeth Cymru hefyd wedi dweud ei bod yn y camau cynnar o ystyried trefniadau ariannu gwahanol ar gyfer gorsafoedd nad ydynt wedi’u dewis.
Ar 26 Chwefror, cadarnhaodd Llywodraeth y DU y byddai’n buddsoddi mewn gwelliannau hygyrchedd mewn gorsafoedd rheilffordd ym Mhrydain Fawr. Cafodd Rhiwabon, Hwlffordd a’r Eglwys Wen (Swydd Amwythig) eu cymeradwyo gan Lywodraeth Cymru, ond nid yw Llywodraeth y DU wedi’u dewis yn y dyraniadau cyllid terfynol.
Cafodd gwelliannau rhanbarthol ychwanegol o ran hygyrchedd mewn 30 o orsafoedd eraill eu cymeradwyo gan Lywodraeth Cymru ond fe’u gwrthodwyd gan Lywodraeth y DU.
Ymysg y cynlluniau a ddewiswyd oedd ychwanegu lifft yn Grangetown, Llanilltud Fawr (2), Pont-y-pŵl a Chastell-nedd, y cyfan drwy gyllid ar y cyd gan yr Adran Drafnidiaeth, Trafnidiaeth Cymru a chyllid trydydd parti (er enghraifft, awdurdodau lleol).
Gellid defnyddio rhan o gynnig cyllid Trafnidiaeth Cymru i helpu cynlluniau nad ydynt wedi’u dewis, er efallai y bydd yn rhaid cwrdd â chostau ychwanegol drwy’r cynlluniau a gymeradwywyd. Mae Llywodraeth Cymru a Trafnidiaeth Cymru yn trafod y mater hwn.
Dywedodd Ken Skates, Gweinidog yr Economi, Trafnidiaeth a Gogledd Cymru:
“Mae’n siomedig mai dim ond 4 o’r 7 prosiect y gwnaethom eu hyrwyddo a chynnig darparu arian cyfatebol ar eu cyfer y mae Llywodraeth y DU wedi penderfynu buddsoddi ynddynt.
“Felly, rwyf wedi gofyn i Drafnidiaeth Cymru a phartneriaid yn y diwydiant rheilffyrdd ystyried ar frys y posibilrwydd o ddefnyddio’r ymrwymiad arian cyfatebol rydym wedi’i gynnig i symud ymlaen i gynnig mynediad heb risiau yn y gorsafoedd nad ydynt wedi’u cynnwys, yn unol â’n buddsoddiad uniongyrchol ein hunain. Mae hyn oherwydd methiant Llywodraeth y DU i ddarparu’r buddsoddiad y maent yn gyfrifol amdano.
“Mae gorsafoedd sydd â chefnogaeth gref yn y gymuned ar gyfer gwaith uwchraddio heb risiau wedi’u heithrio o’r cyllid. Yn anffodus, mae hon yn enghraifft arall lle mae teithwyr yn teimlo effaith diffyg buddsoddiad parhaus Llywodraeth y DU yn rheilffyrdd Cymru.”
“Yn y cyfamser, rwy’n falch y bydd y gwaith yn mynd yn ei flaen yn y pedair gorsaf lwyddiannus.”