This announcement, along with the massive extra investment for the sleeper service, is fantastic news for the Highlands, and the Lochaber area in particular. Not only is the overnight service a vital component of the tourist economy,it is an important business link with London and the South-East. In recent months, I have reverted to using the sleeper service for regular business trips, instead of flying from Edinburgh or Glasgow, as the travelling time then doesn’t eat into a busy day.
The few illustrated plans, featured in the BBC report, suggest that the new operators Serco are going to update the sleeper to give it a more contemporary, almost airline feel. That’s a long overdue improvement, as the current experience has a rather faded and tired 80’s feel. The introduction of en-suite cabins will make the service more attractive to travellers and the pod-like fully reclining seats (similar to those found in business class on airlines) is certainly a step up from the reclining seats currently available to those on a tighter budget. That’s an important point, the new service should still be accessible to everyone. Some of the coverage, including the comments made by our transport minister, seemed to focus on making this a fantastic prestige service aimed at higher spending tourists. It certainly is one of the best railway journeys in the world, just like the The Ghan service in Australia, but we don’t want it to become an exclusive service. The sleeper is just as important for business travellers, as well as walkers heading up to enjoy a long weekend in the Highlands, they mustn’t be priced out of using the sleeper.