The Caledonian Sleeper campaign - fighting for the retention of the sharing option for single passengers, and Railcard discounts for couples or friends sharing.
Latest news is at the top - to follow the story in sequence read the dated sections from the bottom, or select separate pages from the sub-menu. Some of the information in the earlier sections has been overtaken by events.
A key element of our case in this campaign is that several of the proposed changes appear to be in direct contravention of the terms of the franchise agreement signed in May 2014 between The Scottish Ministers and Serco Caledonian Sleepers Ltd.
Serco Caledonian Sleeper claim that the proposed changes have been agreed with Transport Scotland (on behalf of Scottish Ministers), but so far we have been offered very little by way of convincing justification for the changes, and no information at all about the mechanism or formal procedures by which these departures from the terms of the franchise agreement were agreed and allowed.
Only a redacted form of the agreement has been made available for publication, and this can be viewed and downloaded as a .PDF file via this link .
9 February 2018
John Finnie MSP is on the case
After his help was enlisted by Julian, John Finnie has been working hard in support of the sleeper campaign, as can be seen from his recent email to Julian, below.
From: Finnie J (John), MSP
Date: Fri, Feb 9, 2018 at 10:07 AM
Subject: FW: Correspondence
Please see the attached.
Unfortunately, due to other duties I have not been able to get to it before now. The timeframe of the Government’s response suggests they were not aware of Serco’s temporary reversal of their plans.
I have since asked the Transport Minister for copies of Serco’s “own research of passenger ferries regarding allowing single travellers to purchase berths in shared cabins”. I have also requested the same in respect of their sleeper services.
You’ll recall I undertook to speak to Peter Strachan, Chief Executive of Caledonian Sleeper. As I was unable to contact him directly by phone, Linda, from my office, called at the Caledonian Sleeper office in Station Square Inverness. Linda identified herself and requested the direct number for Mr Strachan. This request was refused, so Linda left my business card and requested that Mr Strachan call me. To date he has not contacted me.
Last Monday I attended the HiTrans seminar in Inverness. There I heard what I can only describe as a very ladsy presentation from Mr Strachan during which he ridiculed this issue, which made me very angry. Seeing no benefit in confronting Mr Strachan I have raised the attached questions with the Scottish Government.
I have also attached my press release and the subsequent coverage which you may have seen in Monday’s Press and Journal.
You can view the attachments referred to in the email via the links below.
Transport Minister Humza Yousaf's reply to an earlier letter from JF.
Response from JF seeking further clarification.
Press release by JF which was the basis for subsequent articles in the online and print versions of the Press and Journal.
Scottish Parliamentary questions lodged by JF, seeking clarification on various issues, with the general thrust of " . . whether the Caledonian Sleeper Franchise agreement has been subject to any alterations and, if so, who was consulted, and what alterations, including financial adjustments, were made", and with particular reference to the franchise undertakings on Railcard discounts, reclining seats and 'pod flatbeds'.
A piece by Rita Campbell in the online Press and Journal based on John Finnie's press release. "Plans to end “Share with a Stranger” on Caledonian Sleeper condemned".
A similar article in the print P&J by Alistair Munro
And finally, as Julian says "the only sort of Press Release that Serco wishes us to read. This is the future of the Sleeper if Serco have their way."
3 February 2018
Another Scotsman article
The online Scotsman of Friday 2 February has another article by Transport Correspondent Alastair Dalton. Unfortunately it is rather bland in tone and fails to address several of the main issues (apart from the central one of singles sharing), being pursued by the campaign: the legitimacy of those of the proposed changes which appear to contravene the terms of the original franchise agreement; the initial almost total lack of publicity about the proposed changes and booking procedures, and the highly dubious justification for the withdrawal of Railcard discounts.
29 January 2018
Caledonian Sleeper - the change in policy explained
Caledonian Sleeper have today (Monday 29 January) put full information about their changed fares structure and railcard policy to October and beyond on their website
Under "All services up to 24 October 2018 inclusive" this page states
"From 25 February all services will operate using our current fleet of trains and existing fare structure. This means that all previously accepted Railcard discounts are valid. For more information visit - sleeper.scot/tickets-timetables/railcards ."
The following section appears towards the end of each of the Lowland and Highland sections of the travel-after-25-february page
"Shared Room Products from 25 October
As mentioned, from 25 October, all our accommodation products will be offered on a “hotel style” room rather than “per traveller” basis. Due to this change, our share with a stranger products will no longer be available. However, all classes are available to book on a solo or twin basis.
We will offer a discounted rate per person to guests who share a room when travelling together. These are available to all of our guests and you do not need a Railcard to take advantage of these fares.
We also have great value Family Tickets for those guests travelling with children. This will automatically be shown during the booking process as long as no railcard is chosen."
The highlighted paragraph prompts two questions:
Why do they not continue to offer the current normal railcard discounts?
What do they really mean by a 'discounted rate'?
The 'discounted rate' appears to refer to the difference between twice the basic rate for a solo cabin (£280) and the rate for a shared double (£170), which is £110, or £55 per person - slightly more than the 1/3 Railcard discount.
However, during the last week in February under the existing fares structure, the difference between twice the rate for a solo (first class) compartment and the rate for a shared standard class double was £75 and £80 per person on different days - a considerable 'discount' - and yet quite reasonably, Railcard discounts are still available on the shared standard class fares.
What Caledonian Sleeper are in effect saying is that under the proposed new fares structure they are offering us a 'discount' for the privelege of being allowed to travel standard class instead of first, and claiming that this entitles them to refuse to honour our valid railcards.
The final section of the website page is
I’ve already booked to travel after 25 February but want to change my booking?
. . . . . . . .
Should you wish to change your booking (for example, for a product that was not available at the time of your original booking), please contact our Guest Service Centre with your booking reference number to hand - https://www.sleeper.scot/contact
The 'contact' page has a number for the telephone booking office and a contact form to be submitted online. Customers phoning the booking office will be told that bookings cannot be changed until 25 February. This agrees with information we have received unofficially, although the date has never been formally announced.
Contrary to what we previously suggested, a request made via the contact form to change a booking will not be acted on, as payment card information is required. According to staff at the 'Guest Service Centre' passengers will themselves have to make a new booking and cancel the old one (we suggest in that order), either by telephone or online. This does not quite square with a letter from the Managing Director suggesting that "bookings can be re-processed" by the service centre staff.
24 January 2018
Interim Victory for the Sleeper Campaign - Singles Sharing to continue until October
The pressure of enquiries directed towards Serco / Caledonian Sleeper by Julian Paren and others about the reasons given for the proposed withdrawal of the singles sharing option and railcard discounts for shared cabins, and the doubtful legitimacy of these changes under the terms of the franchise agreement, bore fruit this week with the receipt of near-identical letters from Keith Wallace, Managing Director of Caledonian Sleeper, and the Serco 'Media Team'.
After several paragraphs of unconvincing attempts to justify the proposed changes on the grounds that consultation with 'a wide range of stakeholders' (entirely unsupported by evidence) had revealed an adverse public perception of the current service, and some highly dubious arguments and figures about optimum occupancy, we come to the crucial concession
"The transitional fares arrangement is a temporary measure to ensure that we can continue to retail tickets until we establish a date for the introduction of the new fleet. Now that these dates are known for the Lowland service, we are able to withdraw transitional fares on the 26th February on those routes, meaning that the fares system will revert to products for existing fleet (meaning the re-instatement of ‘share with a stranger’ in Standard class) for travel dates up to the introduction of the new fleet before switching to the new fares structure in October 2018. On the Highland service, as we know that service introduction will be later, we revert to existing fares structures, but will use transitional fares after October 2018 until such time as we can definitively state the introduction date for the Highland. As always, these plans may change as circumstances change but we will not, under any circumstances, risk consumers not being able to travel in the class of service they have bought."
Sounds great! So you can now lift the phone or go online and book a sleeper journey after 25 February with the singles sharing option and get the discount you expect with your Railcard? No you can not. We understand that because of the time required to update national booking systems it will not be possible for single passengers to book shared accommodation for travel on or after 25 February, before that date, either online or by phone.
But if you book before 25 February, will you be able to change your booking once the booking system has caught up? The only information we have received about this so far is contained in the following extract from an email to Julian from the Serco media team, so we are currently seeking more robust assurances from Caledonian Sleeper's Managing Director.
"This [reverting to the standard fare structure] will be happening as soon as possible, from late February 2018, as there are a number of changes that need to take place in the UK rail national reservation system to prevent unintended consequences. We will be providing information in due course with full details for guests who wish to change bookings."
A number of important questions arise from all this
Would these unwelcome changes have been withdrawn (or at least postponed) if we had not run this campaign; and was there indeed some (unadmitted) lack of legitimacy in relation to the terms of the franchise agreement that caused the climbdown?
Why is it all so secretive? Where were the advertisements and press releases announcing the proposed changes, or invitations to consult and evidence of the consultation supposed to have taken place? Where is the media information now announcing the change of policy or the announcement on the www.sleeper.scot website? The only publicity of any kind has been Serco's press release of 16 January, trumpeting the arrival of the new trains – six months late.
What happens after October? Will it be possible to tip the balance in favour of the view of the sleeper as a convenient and comfortable method of travel, rather than an up-market 'journey experience', and ensure the retention of the singles sharing option and full railcard discounts for the long term? The answer to that is probably constant vigilance and more hard work.
Read Julian's reply to the letter from Keith Wallace and the Serco media team, with his paragraph by paragraph responses.
23 January 2018
A Seat with a View – but does it Recline?
When the Serco press release announcing the arrival of the new sleeper trains was launched on 16, Julian noticed the absence of any reference to the 'Flat Beds' option which was specified in the franchise agreement as one of the types of accommodation that Caledonian sleeper were required to provide on the new trains.
He wrote to Serco Chairman Peter Strachan, noting that
"The Franchise Agreement did not let you change the present arrangement until the introduction of the new rolling stock, when a Flatbed could be seen as a compensation for the removal of the shared option."
and asking for an assurance that Flatbeds were still part of the proposed accommodation mix.
Such an assurance was never received, and it soon became obvious that there would be no Flatbeds on the new trains. Not only that, but it appeared from the images of the 'Comfort Seats' included in the Serco press release that these seats would not recline or have any leg support, again in contravention of the terms of the franchise agreement. Pressed on this point, Serco insisted that the seats on the new trains would recline, admitted that the picture in the press release was a computer-generated image which bore no relation to reality, and claimed that they could not release drawings or detailed images of the actual seats, because these were ".. the seat manufacturer’s commercially confidential documents.. ".
By this time, (23 January), Caledonian Sleeper had quietly revealed that they proposed to remove the right for Railcard holders to get their expected 33% discount in shared cabins, but retain the discount for seated accommodation and solo cabins. This prompted Julian to undertake further research into the promise and the reality of seated accommodation on the sleeper, and he wrote the following article.
"Seated accommodation on the Caledonian Sleeper
Four years ago Serco was awarded the franchise for the Caledonian Sleeper based on ambitious plans to provide “an iconic Scottish railway journey available for all from back-packers to business travellers” and detailed their plans in a glossy brochure. The brochure focussed on the new rolling stock they were planning to introduce.
Four years later Caledonian Sleeper have revealed what the new seated sleeper will look like, but have not reminded the public on what they had promised. So let’s look at the “before and after”
Before. Glossy brochure May 2014.
Note there are two forms of accommodation. The cradle seat with a reclining seat and footrest and a Pod Flatbed which is a fully 100% reclining seat.
Switch forward to 2018 to the Media Release announcing the new rolling stock. Not mentioned at all is that there will be no Cradle Seats – no Pod Flatbeds . What is to be provided is a “Comfort Seat”. If you look at the construction of the new seats you can see no way that they could recline. Furthermore the Media Release fails to say whether they recline or not, just saying “our comfort seats offer a truly relaxing way to travel.”
Any change from the Franchise Agreement has to be agreed by Scottish Minsters. Why in this £100 million investment in new trains has it proved impossible to provide what was promised and why have Scottish Ministers agreed to it? The decision to provide en-suite accommodation and double-bedded suites (starting at £200 per person) makes the whole Caledonian Sleeper refurbishment look like a vanity project of Scottish Minsters which Serco are delivering for the benefit of wealthy tourists and overpaid business men to the detriment of the less affluent."
So we are still waiting to see images or drawings of the actual (reclining?) seats to be installed in the new trains, having so far only an assurance from Caledonian Sleeper that they "do intend to release photos and renders of the seats once the final testing has been completed."
We also require a response from Serco and Transport Scotland (on behalf of the Scottish Government), to the question of why Serco Caledonian Sleeper were allowed to renege on the undertaking in the franchise agreement to provide basic 'horizontal' accommodation in the form of the 'Pod Flatbeds' originally specified. Had these been provided, the proposed withdrawal of the option for single passengers to share sleeper compartments, though still unwelcome, would have been less of a disincentive to using the sleeper, and less detrimental financially, to younger and less well-off single travellers.
Latest sleeper bombshell - Serco to abolish railcard discounts on shared cabin tickets
Not content with attempting to withdraw the singles sharing option, Serco Caledonian Sleeper are now trying to sneak in a change as a result of which many customers will find that their railcards will no longer be honoured on the sleeper. Julian has discovered a page on the www.sleeper.scot website which states that from 25 February railcard discounts will no longer be available for any shared cabin bookings. The relevant sections for just two of the types of railcard available read:
"Journeys up to 24 February 2018
- 16 -25 Railcard - If you are aged between 16 and 25 years of age,or are a mature student in full-time education you are eligible for a 16-25 railcard. With up to 33% discount these are a great way to save money.
- Senior Railcard - If you are over 60 you can save 1/3 off rail fares. Buying a three year Senior Railcard represents a further saving.
Journeys from 25 February 2018
- 16 -25 Railcard - If you are aged between 16 and 25 years of age or are a mature student in full-time education you are eligible for a 16-25 railcard. A 1/3 discount is available on solo room and seated products.
- Senior Railcard - If you are over 60 you can save 1/3 off rail fares. A 1/3 discount is available on solo room and seated products."
As with the proposed withdrawal of the singles sharing option, this change to the availability of railcard discounts contravenes the franchise agreement between Serco Caledonian Sleeper and the Scottish Government. The Franchise Document says Caledonian Sleeper will honour
"4. Discount Fare Schemes
4.1. ATOC Disabled Persons Railcard Scheme dated 23 July 1995 between the participants named therein;
4.2. ATOC 16-25 Railcard Scheme dated 23 July 1995 between the participants named therein; and
4.3. ATOC Senior Railcard Scheme dated 23 July 1995 between the participants named therein.
4.4. Scottish Youth Railcard under the Young Scot NEC Card."
(ATOC is the Association of Train Operating Companies).
With regard to singles sharing Serco say that Transport Scotland has agreed to this ticket type being withdrawn before the introduction of the new train fleet, but no justification, evidence or documentation has been produced by either party to support this assertion, and the same lack of transparency can be expected in this case. It is outrageous that the franchise agreement for the sleeper service should be changed by secret agreements, and it should not be necessary to have to lodge a Freedom of Information request (as Julian has done), in order to make public the reasons for, and details of, these agreements.
You can see the full page about the proposed railcard changes at https://www.sleeper.scot/tickets-timetables/railcards
[This page has been changed from 1 February to show the current Railcard discounts, after the policy change to revert to the existing fares structure until October 2018.]
Julian has sent John Finnie (Highlands MSP and Green Party transport spokesman), who had already agreed to pursue enquiries into the singles sharing withdrawal, an email about this latest issue, which concluded "I hope you will be able to support a FoI request on how the company has been allowed to do this, and take this up in parliament. Naturally I hope this new policy can be reversed", and has had a positive response.
Other recent developments in the sleeper campaign -
Julian has submitted a Freedom of Information request asking for the release of correspondence between Transport Scotland and Serco Caledonian Sleeper relating to the withdrawal of the singles sharing option, and received an acknowledgment from the Rail Franchise Management Unit of Transport Scotland.
Article in Scotland on Sunday 21 January by Alastair Dalton, Transport Correspondent - "Sharing with stranger on Scotland-London sleeper train to be banned."
Article in Ross-shire Journal 19 January, quoting Julian Paren and sleeper spokesman - "Sleeper fare withdrawal is a 'bombshell."
Julian has sent an email to Peter Strachan, Chairman of Serco Caledonian Sleeper, about Flat Beds on the new sleeper trains (this could be the next contentious issue);
and also sent another letter to the Inverness Courier, which did not print the letter he sent last week in response to the 'Strangers in the night. . ' article in their issue of 12 January.
We have found that single passengers can still share a two-berth compartment on the UK's only other rail sleeper service, the 'Night Riviera' from Paddington to Penzance run by First Great Western, with certain types of ticket. They can choose a 'sleeper supplement' to a seat ticket, at £45 to share or £70 for single occupancy.
Finally, if you haven't yet signed the petition calling for the retention of the singles sharing option, please do so now, and circulate it as widely as you can among all those you think might be concerned about this issue.
17 January 2018
Serco press release confusion - sleeper campaign continues
Campaigners for the retention of the singles sharing ticket option on the Caledonian Sleeper were elated yesterday (Tuesday 16 January) when a press release from Serco / Caledonian Sleeper appeared to indicate that the charging system currently in operation would be retained until the introduction of the new train fleet, which has now been put back until October.
The relevant sentence in the press release reads
"Pricing and accommodation options for the current trains will remain in place until new trains are introduced in October, with transitional pricing then coming into effect on the ‘Highlander’ route."
Whether this apparent change had been made as a result of our pointing out that changing ticket types before the introduction of the new trains, as had been proposed, contravened schedule 5.2 of the franchise agreement, or was purely co-incidental, seemed immaterial. It certainly looked as if we had been victorious in our first skirmish, although well aware that the war remained to be won.
Hopes were dashed on Wednesday, however, when in a phone conversation with Serco's chief press officer Charles Carr, Julian was given to understand that the sentence above did not mean what it appeared to say. It not mean "Current pricing and accommodation options. . ", as we had understood it, but "Pricing and accommodation options for the current trains, as currently in effect and as due to be changed on 25 February as previously announced".
You can read the full press release either
So it's back to square one-and-a-half for the moment, but the campaign goes on. Also on Wednesday, the online Scotsman ran an article by its Transport Correspondent Alastair Dalton under the headline "New Caledonian Sleeper trains delayed until October", which included the sentence "Passengers travelling alone will no longer be permitted to share with a stranger, with the change being implemented on the current trains from 26 February" (which is not contained in the press release). It was in seeking clarification of the contradiction between this and the sentence quoted above, that Julian came to discover that the real facts of the matter had not changed.
Julian has also written a letter to the Inverness Courier as a follow-up to their article last week ('Strangers in the night' fare to end), pointing out that Serco also run the Northlink ferries to Orkney and Shetland, on which single passengers can share two or four-berth cabins with strangers.
Indefatigable for the cause, Julian has also written to the Scottish Government's Minister for Transport, Humza Yousaf MSP, copied to John Finnie (MSP for the Highlands and Islands and Green Party Transport spokesman), asking for details of the agreement reached between Serco Caledonian Sleeper and Transport Scotland to approve the proposed fare changes in apparent contravention of the franchise agreement, and of the consultation on the changes which is supposed to have taken place. Following a brief supportive reply from John Finnie, Julian has written to him separately asking if it would be possible to arrange a meeting in Inverness between him and local Green Party, TBI and other supporters of the campaign to discuss how best to take it forward.
if you haven't already signed the petition, please do so now, and pass the link to your friends
15 January 2018
Campaign to save single sharing on the sleeper picks up speed
TBI director Julian Paren, many of whose family and friends are regular users of the sleeper, and nearly always as single passengers, has become the driving force behind a rapidly growing campaign to persuade Serco / Caledonian Sleeper to reverse a change in charging structure due to come into force on 25 February. The proposed change would deprive single passengers of the opportunity of sharing a two-berth compartment with another single traveller of the same sex - at a huge discount against the fare for single occupancy - which has been available on the sleeper for as long as anyone can remember.
Of course not all single passengers will wish to share a cabin, and none have ever been required to do so, but to deprive those who are willing to share (for many of whom sharing brings using the sleeper within their financial reach) of the opportunity to do so, smacks of arrogance and extortion on the part of Caledonian Sleeper. Julian has calculated that for a single traveller currently willing and able to share, being compelled to pay for a single-occupancy cabin will represent a fare increase of around 65%, far in excess of anything which would be tolerated for any other service.
Apart from this fundamental issue of principle, there are a number of worrying aspects of the way the change is being introduced. One concerns the nature and results of the consultation "..with various stakeholders, including user groups", which Caledonian Sleeper claims to have taken place; another is the apparent absence of any announcement, advertising or publicity about the change, even on the Sleeper website; and yet another is the fact that introducing the change on 25 February appears to contravene the terms of the franchise agreement between Caledonian Sleeper and Scottish Ministers, which states in Schedule 5.2 that the shared berth ticket must be offered until the delivery of new train fleet, which is unlikely to happen before at least mid April.
A letter from Julian about the proposed change was published in the Ross-shire Journal on 12 January, and a short piece quoting Julian and a spokesman for Caledonian Sleeper appeared in the Inverness Courier on the same day. Julian has also written to the managing Director of Caledonian Sleeper asking how he can reconcile the withdrawal of the sharing ticket on 25 February with the terms of the franchise agreement, and TBI director Anne Thomas has set up a 38 Degrees petition requesting that the sharing option be continued. Contacts with other Transition groups and MSPs are also under way, to increase support for the campaign.
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