by Victoria Ward and Orlando Bird, The Telegraph, April 30, 2019
Guests were told to “dream big”.
But as the sleek new Caledonian Sleeper, with its £150m revamp, finally rolled into Glasgow yesterday morning, hours behind schedule, all passengers were immediately offered full refunds.
The service had promised to transform the experience of travelling by train between Scotland and England.
Instead, there were lengthy delays, water leaks and booking mix-ups.
The coffee machine broke, the butter ran out at breakfast and some passengers waited two hours for a simple bag of crisps in the plush new club car.
The inaugural service from Scotland to London did not fare much better; there were power cuts, the food ran out and the lavatories were blocked amid a steady pile up of misfortunes.
Michael Harrison from Glasgow could not contain his disappointment at the “hideously late” service.
“Are you even aware of how your new batch of trains are running?” he wrote online from his carriage.
“It’s hideously late, no reasons given; it’s cost me a crucial appointment and potentially a significant part of my employment.
“Four hours to reach Edinburgh from Glasgow. Eight-nine hours later and we’re only halfway to London... we’re still faffing about in the Midlands having spent the whole night on a snails-pace tour of the north east.
“No information, updates or apologies have been offered whatsoever.”
He bristled: “You’d need a degree in quantum physics to make up this lost time; Doc Brown couldn’t achieve that if he suddenly turned up in a damn Delorean.”
The journey from London’s Euston had started badly when it became immediately apparent that many cabins had been wrongly booked, bunk beds were not made up and water from an air conditioning unit started leaking in.
But the staff ploughed on cheerfully and on the whole, passengers proved themselves to be robust, determined to make the most of it.
The old trains had featured strip lighting, stained carpets and patterns reminiscent of a Mecca Bingo hall.
There was a general consensus that the sleek new seating carriages were more akin to a Habitat showroom, there was plenty of legroom and even overhead lockers.
And crucially, the one-time bone rattler had been transformed to such comparative luxury that a good night’s sleep was enjoyed by all. Well, most.
A spokesman for the service noted that new auto-coupler technology avoids the need for excessive shunting when the various services split and join in the middle of the night. “They kiss rather than kick,” he said.
The beat-up cabins and the microwaved food had been replaced with comfy seats, meals cooked in an actual oven, stranger-free sleeping arrangements and even double beds.
Travellers au fait with the former sleeper service pointed joyfully to the power switches, USB sockets, dimmer lighting and en suites.
In the much-vaunted Club Car, many passengers waited several hours to receive their orders but praised the menu, that featured plenty of fish, game pie and haggis.
As the service approached its destination, weary staff knocked on cabin doors to give passengers, some of whom had paid around £350 for the experience, forms to fill in for compensation.
The delays were blamed on signalling problems in the Newcastle area, while a diversion on the East Coast line and a problem on the incoming Highlander service from Fort William had left the train without the driver for the final portion of the journey.
The overnight service eventually arrived in London 80 minutes after the first daytime service from Glasgow.
But the teething problems were generally deemed to be expected and most passengers declared that despite being “more comedy than romance”, the service and its “hotel feel” was vastly improved.
Ryan Flaherty, managing director of operator Serco, said: “We apologise to guests affected by delays to our services last night. These were as a result of signalling problems across the network. We are engaging with Network Rail to understand why these issues occurred.”
This article was written by Victoria Ward and Orlando Bird from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]