In a major programme milestone, the first of the 75 new carriages for the iconic Caledonian Sleeper service have arrived at the Velim test centre in the Czech Republic, where they are to undergo several weeks’ testing.
Five carriages, two seated, one Club and two sleeper, were despatched earlier this month from the factory in Beasain, northern Spain where the new fleet is being manufactured and assembled for Serco by CAF. They were transported by road from the CAF factory to Hendaye station in France where they started their rail transit to the Czech Republic.
Dynamic testing will start in the near future at Velim Test Centre and will last several weeks. Once these tests are successfully completed, the carriages will then be moved from Velim to Polmadie in Glasgow, UK via the Channel Tunnel. The UK test programme is expected to start before the end of the year, initially with static and locomotive interface testing, progressing later to dynamic testing.
Serco committed to the introduction of the new fleet when it won the contract in 2014. It represents an investment of over £100m, part-funded by a £60m capital grant from Scottish Ministers, and when introduced in 2018 it will bring new standards in guest comfort.
Commenting on the start of the Czech trials, Peter Strachan, Serco’s Chairman, UK Rail, said: “It’s great to see the first of the new carriages on the move. To design, build and introduce a new fleet of rail sleeper coaches is extremely challenging and complex. Achieving this milestone is entirely due to the professionalism of the Serco team and everyone involved across the rail industry. We still have a lot of work to do to successfully bring the new sleeper fleet into service next year, but I am really excited about the quality of experience we will be able to offer our guests when it arrives.”
The carriages will offer four innovative ways to travel in comfort on the Sleeper service – reclining seats, berths, en-suite berths and luxurious ensuite double rooms for couples. The service will also include a Brasserie style Club Car for dining. Other new features being introduced include a hotel style key-card entry system to rooms, phone and gadget charging facilities for all guests and on-board WiFi. The new look and feel of the carriages has been overseen by award winning Scottish interior designer Ian Smith, with the patterns reflecting a contemporary Scotland theme.
Serco began operating the Caledonian Sleepers rail franchise for Scottish Ministers in April 2015 and has already brought in many improvements to the current fleet. These have included opening a new Guest Services Centre in Inverness; a new booking website allowing guests to book up to 12 months in advance; new bedding with more comfortable pillows and duvets; new customer sleep packs – upgraded dining options with seasonal local produce menu; procurement that focuses on Scottish food and drink sourced from local suppliers; new smart branding with new uniforms; on board events and a new on-board magazine.