Geoff Moore of the thetraveltrunk.net shares his experience of the rare opportunity to see the old Caledonian Sleeper train on one of its final journeys
After around 40 years in operation, the rolling stock used by the London to Scotland Caledonian Sleeper train service is ending and the £150m replacements are being phased in.
Having the chance to be one of the last writers to travel on the old and then experience the new, on one round trip, was for me a rare chance and not to be ignored.
My sojourn started by slowly slipping out of London Euston under electric power for the 500-mile overnight jaunt to Inverness replaced by a diesel engine over the border.
Leaving around 9.15pm most nights of the week the service has been used by maybe millions over those years. I in fact used the service to Aberdeen for the first time, way back in the 1970’s!
Last year, I also made the trip to Inverness on the service which was when I heard about the new rolling stock and hence my desire to be one of the first to experience the new.
Certainly, on that trip, the blue coloured aged carriages looked tired and dated and the cabins had issues with ventilation and lacked a more contemporary look and feel.
The small dining car and lounging room when new would have been appealing but in today’s travelling market it is just not fit for purpose.
Punctuality of this service has been regarded as one of the best in the whole of the UK. Both recent trips were pretty well bang on time arriving in the capital of the Highlands after carrying out the what I call the ‘Edinburgh shuffle’ in the sidings. This is where the train splits into three sections. One section heads to Fort William, one to Aberdeen and of course the third to Inverness.
The new train in its Caledonian Sleeper teal livery outside, has time-shifted inside to the 21st century.
A marvellous step-up in the new rooms with now double beds added to the more conventional bunk-bed layout in the majority of cabins and of which those can be converted to single by the top bunk being pushed back to the wall and ceiling giving a feeling of more space.
However, the big change comes with the ensuite for their Club Rooms. Here a combined compact shower and toilet make the journey more convenient in both meanings of the word and just more up to date in a way that today’s travellers expect. Their classic rooms are the same minus the ensuite and are either set up as single or a dual bunk bed style.
Power sockets, USB charging points, heating and lighting controls even a place just for your mobile phone to sit snuggly within easy reach as you doze.
The mattresses are really very comfortable, perhaps a little narrow but I had a great night’s sleep! Reputed to be the same as the Queen uses or at least made by the same crafts people in Scotland. Accessibility for wheelchair users has vastly improved too.
My experience on the journey back to London was without doubt a great deal more comfortable. The ride from the new rolling stock is vastly better. The hydraulic suspension system damps the motion really well and the way each carriage is connected has also been improved.
Bearing in mind that when all three trains are attached together, they head back into London and are over a quarter of a mile long – 16 carriages in all!
Design in the lounge and dining car has been taken to another level from the old layout. A shark’s tooth long table at one side with revolving stools gives a place to sit, dine or work whilst the booths and tables around the rest of the carriage provide seating for small groups or couples wanting to wind away some of the journey time dining or having night-cap together.
Information screens on ends of each carriage give up-to-date details of the current stops and route as you progress.
As well as sleeping compartments there is also an area for seated travellers in reclining aircraft style seats. Larger luggage items and bikes can also be taken on the trip and are carried in a locked storage area adjacent to the train manager’s control office.
Travelling as a club passenger gives you first access to the dining car for the chance to dine as you board the train. Although most passengers do tend to head to bed be that bunk style, single or now perhaps that more romantic way, of a double!
This trip was made in conjunction with Great Rail Journeys using their Experience Castles and Wildlife of Scotland itinerary on an escorted small group tour.
Price start from £1,685 pp and the seven-day trip includes the Caledonian Sleeper train ticket, hotel and accommodation, all rail excursions and selected meals. greatrail.com/tours/castles-and-wildlife-of-scotland/