scotland (4K)
The Friends of the Far North Line
Cairdean Na Loine Tuath
the campaign group for rail north of Inverness - lobbying for improved services for the local user, tourist and freight operator

Overnight Train Services

Dear Mr. Piercy

Issue 15 of the Newsletter provided, as always, an interesting and informative read. It also, however, struck a couple of particular chords in the form of firstly, the letter written by Jim Love (Inverness Courier of 15.10.99) in that my wife and I had a remarkably similar experience when travelling (supposedly) first class on a grossly over-crowded Edinburgh-Inverness service at around the same time (4.10.99). ScotRail's response to a measured complaint was the usual palliative which gives the impression that passengers are a hindrance to the efficient running of a railway.

The second, and more important "chord" is the letter from John M Chamney. My wife and I are regulars on the overnight sleeper between our homes in London and Easter Ross, much preferring this service to flying and, particularly, to driving. We are often accompanied by friends and family. We also recommend the service to the guests we have on the estate between approximately July and November each year (people who live in/around London but particularly to people flying in from USA and Continental Europe). We know that quite a lot of them would love to use the sleeper except that its non-running through Saturday night makes this impractical. Like many estates Sunday is our traditional "change-over" day which would necessitate guests using the northbound service Saturday/Sunday and the southbound service Sunday/Monday. I do not know when the economics of such a Saturday/Sunday service were last investigated but we often have fifteen or more people coming north and a similar number travelling south each week-end in the season. At this time people either fly or drive (including using rental cars) and we cannot be the only estate experiencing this. Is this an issue FOFNL might wish to take up with the powers that be (you may even induce connections directly with the FNL if convenient services exist)?

Wishing further success to the FOFNL,

Ian A Duncan Member No. 259 Kildermorie Estate, Ardross, Easter Ross

Dear Editor,

The thrust of John Chamney's letter in Newsletter No 15 can be summarised in the first three words of his third paragraph "Many years ago..." I think he would now find the promotion of ScotRail sleepers very different from that which he seems to recall. An awful lot has happened since privatisation - and dare I suggest - for the better.

The National Express version of ScotRail are marketing the sleepers aggressively and with great imagination. The current offer of a Sleeper Return for two people at £79 is but one example of that - and if you look at the alternatives it is actually even cheaper than Easyjet's Promo Offer of a £10 flight - one way, per person, plus £10 Airport charges. (if you can get one!), and the ScotRail offer includes, morning coffee and biscuits, served in bed if you wish.

ScotRail sleepers also form an attractive element in the ScotRail ShortBreaks brochure, giving the possibility of a long-weekend in London, for example, between Friday night and Monday morning without taking any precious leave. Brochures are available at most Railway Stations in Scotland and many in England, and I don't think Mr. Chamney would find station staff as uninformed as he seems to have found in the past. I cannot speak for the Tourist Information Centres but I have seen ScotRail sleeper promotional material at most of them in Scotland.

The introduction of a Caledonian Sleeper seated service, at less than road coach fare, and a complete refurbishment of all the sleeper rolling stock are further examples of ScotRail's appreciation and enthusiasm for this important feeder service. Add a very competitive car-hire option in Scotland and I think the current performance of the ScotRail sleeper service gets better all the time. (And it is probably relevant to add that ScotRail is currently the UK's top performing TOC - save possibly the Isle of Wight) I know this. I use the service regularly and enthuse to my travelling friends. Does Mr. Chamney? It is sadly a fact of life that bad news is more clearly remembered than the opposite and the "knockers" often further disadvantage a cause which they would wish to promote.

Not everything is perfect; for example, I would like to see better reception and waiting facilities for standard class sleeper passengers, particularly at Euston, where their portakabin compares unfavourably with the Virgin Lounge. But the possibility of a shower, either on the trains or at arrival stations, would, for me, be the icing on the cake.

Yours sincerely,
Frank Faulkner FOFNL member 132

Dear Sir

I was sorry to read John Chamney's view in the Newsletter that allegedly poor use of night trains is the result of the failure to promote facilities. Since acquiring responsibility for the Anglo-Scottish overnight services in 1995, ScotRail have worked successfully with Tourist Information Centres. Tourist Boards and rail retailers to raise their profile and promote public awareness of the service which we have re-branded The Caledonian Sleepers.

We have introduced dedicated fares so that whereas the Inverness-London Saver return plus Sleeper supplement prior to the April 1997 start of the franchise was £141, now our Sleeper return is £129- and the Sleeper Apex return which must be booked seven days in advance is only £99. A Family Sleeper Ticket offering return travel for two adults and two children or one adult and three children is £230.

We are investing £7M in an upgrade of the rolling-stock which includes a complete interior refurbishment and striking new purple and silver exterior livery. A wheel-chair-accessible berth-space is now provided for the mobility-impaired traveller and carer. An overnight seated service was reinstated on 30 January with comfortable reclining seats on offer at the bargain basement fare of £45 Apex return between Inverness and London.

So I believe that things have changed for the better since the experiences recounted by Mr. Chamney, but hope that the Friends can help us keep people aware that the Caledonian Sleepers remain very much in business.

Yours faithfully
John Yellowlees, External Relations Manager

Another letter on this subject