Monday, 9 March 2015

New Caledonian Sleeper franchise ads another unnecessary layer of bureacracy to the railways.

 When the Transport Scotland consultation went out a few years ago suggesting separating the Caledonian Sleeper from the Scotrail franchise as an option, I objected, suggesting to either keep it as part of Scotrail or include it in either the West Coast or Cross Country franchises (the sleepers were nominally part of Intercity under British Rail) on the grounds that a separate franchise would cost more to run and effectively be the country's smallest franchise, only operating four trains a day (two going north and two south, although both trains split into 2-3 portions north of Carstairs). What would be the point in having a whole franchise just to run these few trains? So it's finally here; the new Caledonian sleeper franchise, which will be operated by Serco from 1st April, with locomotives supplied by GBRF (instead of DB Schenker as is the case at the moment). This could almost be an April fool's joke as the locos that will haul the train in the highlands will be Class 73 Electro-diesels; a type designed to run on the DC third rail-electrified regions of the South East and the Wirral. Why not stick with DBS and its proven Class 67s, or go to DRS and its Class 68s? Cost must be the obvious answer. But why the need to borrow locos from a freight company at all? With the supply of new Sleeper coaches (to be built by CAF in Spain) imminent, why not acquire a few locomotives (either new or second hand) and drivers for Serco itself? The use of third-party locomotives is not unique to the Caledonian Sleeper. Chiltern and Arriva Trains Wales also have long-term arrangements with DBS for supply of Class 67s. Under British Rail, where everything was owned by the same organisation, you could easily more locos and drivers between sectors. Under our fragmented system of Privatisation, such arrangements are complex and no doubt require a lot of back-room staff and lawyers to arrange. It's time to re-integrate our railways, not break them up even further.

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