Roger Williams

As airlines add mattress toppers and designer duvets to the onboard experience, Roger Williams discovers how the UK’s Caledonian Sleeper is targeting business with a new rail sleeping experience.

Until now, UK and European sleeper trains have offered very little luxury, but now it seems a new dawn is breaking.

Aiming to attract a whole new demographic, and targeting ‘budget flyers and hotel snoozers’, Caledonian Sleeper is introducing a long-awaited next generation of trains. The new coaches, constructed by CAF in Spain at a cost of over £150m, offer passengers significantly improved hospitality, with a range of facilities and comforts.

Passengers can choose from Club, Classic or Comfort rooms. Some with en-suites, Arran Aromatics toiletries ‘Sleep Pack’ or inter-connecting rooms, plus upgrades with lounge access and breakfast.
But the most surprising change, and certainly one that grabbed the headlines, is the introduction of the Caledonian Double – a double bed en-suite – well who said romance on the railways was dead?

Firing up an appetite

An improved onboard food and drink offering has been developed with the help of catering partner RG, comprising a traditional Scottish larder of some of the very best produce that the country has to offer, with emphasis very much on traceable provenance.

The service aims to take passengers on a culinary tour of Scotland, menus include classic dishes of the region such as haggis, neeps and tatties through to contemporary delights like Great Glen venison charcuterie platter, with green peppercorn salami, mustard and white pepper salami, and smoked venison, served with wholemeal bread, oatcakes and chutney.

For those who want a little ‘fire’ in the belly before bedtime, the drinks menu has a wide range of 10 to 12-year-old malts and blended Scottish whisky. Craft gins, beers and a decent selection of wines are also available.

Room service

Room service is optional or customers can walk to the seated car. Morning choices include hot Scottish breakfast with Ayrshire bacon, Scottish smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, or porridge.
Ryan Flaherty, Serco’s managing director for Caledonian Sleeper, says: “Travelling on our service will be a truly magical experience that will transform travel between London and Scotland.

Caledonian Sleeper is competitively priced and means guests can now avoid the hassle or additional costs of getting to and from the airport. It is the only way to be at your destination in plenty of time for early morning meetings or a full day’s sightseeing without the cost of a hotel.”

Initially operating on the Lowlander route to Glasgow and Edinburgh, the new trains will subsequently debut on the longer scenic Highlander route between London and Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William. And with Fort William one of the gateways to the privately run West Highland Line, Harry Potter aficionados can arrive in time to travel by steam train across the amazing Glenfinnan Viaduct, although you won’t find Hogwarts at the end of it as you do in the movies!

Snooze don’t lose

This sleep-as-you-go option rather reflects the trend in airlines, where overnight long-distance flights have made significant improvements for customer well-being and quality of sleep (for those that can afford it).

With top airlines offering zero gravity beds, higher privacy screens, increased space and storage, and on some planes even fully enclosed bedroom areas, it’s encouraging more customers to see the red-eye option as an advantage, rather than something to be done as a last resort.

Getting ahead

Caledonian will certainly hope their investment pays off in the same way, and their new direct booking website (launched to coincide with the new trains) has a 12-month booking window, meaning that potential passengers can plan their travel well in advance.

That is a major advantage over other train operators and some airlines, where cheaper advance fares are usually only available nearer the date of travel. And with no hidden costs and passengers allowed to bring multiple suitcases (or excess baggage) onboard without incurring any additional charges, this centre-to-centre travel option is not only one of the most civilised ways to travel – it is also quite possibly the most cost-effective. Suddenly I’m feeling quite sleepy!