Value The sleeper service from London to Scotland is highly valued by its users, the business community and Scotland’s tourist industry, so much so that the UK Government has committed £50 million to its continuation and improvement, and this has been matched by a further £50 million from the Scottish Government.
The service today Two trains operate each way six nights a week [Sunday night to Friday night]. The Lowland Sleeper splits at Carstairs, the front half for Glasgow, the rear for Edinburgh. The Highland Sleeper runs to Edinburgh, where it splits with one portion to Aberdeen, one to Inverness and one to Fort William.
The proposal The Highland Sleeper should divert from its usual Trent Valley route to call at Birmingham New Street in each direction. If it keeps its current northbound departure time from London Euston [21.15], a pick up at Birmingham New Street would be at about the commercially attractive time of 23.00. It may be necessary to bring this time forward by a few minutes but currently calls at Crewe and Preston are lengthy [9 minutes and 10 minutes] and it may be possible to reduce these. Southbound, the set down would be at about 06.10. These times give attractive connections from a wide area, such as Bristol [20.30/08.08], Leicester [21.49/07.17] and Oxford [21.36/07.41].
Serving Lowland Scotland It is not suggested that the Lowland Sleeper should call at Birmingham New Street as its timings are designed to appeal to the London market [Euston 23.50/06.47]. However, the Fort William portion of the Highland Sleeper calls at two of Glasgow’s suburban stations, Westerton and Dalmuir, which could marketed from the West Midlands. Both of these stations have through trains to/from Edinburgh, so the Edinburgh market could also be addressed with doubling back permitted and still afford a good night’s sleep.
Influencing the decision At present, the sleepers are part of the ScotRail franchise, but the Scottish Government is now looking at what should follow it from April 2015. Its proposal is to hive off the sleepers to a microfranchise for 15 years. In return for capital investment, the Scottish Government is looking for an increase in passenger numbers, so our suggestion is very relevant.
Campaign Update -
Serco takes over the Sleepers on 1 April and will inherit the established timings and calling points. No immediate change is expected. In answer to the question about stopping the Highland Sleeper in Birmingham, the response was that ‘this presents difficulties, but may be reviewed in the future’.
Two possible ‘difficulties’ are platform lengths at Birmingham New Street, where Platforms 1 and 4 can nominally cope with 15 sleeper coaches at 23 metres length [the Sleeper is 16 coaches long, plus locomotive] and the extra time needed to travel via Birmingham compared to taking the Trent Valley route.
The Sleepers already serve some stations where platforms are shorter than the train, such as Watford Junction, so it is possible. At New Street though, junctions at each end of the station would be fouled, but only for a few minutes and at times when the station is quiet.
It is believed that Birmingham International has been considered for a Highland Sleeper call. If that is accepted, the extra journey time by taking the Stechford to Aston line and continuing through Bescot is only 10 minutes more than the Trent Valley.
An Overnight Sleeper Service from Birmingham to Scotland