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Caledonian Sleeper woes ‘forcing me back to British Airways’, says Highland business traveller

By Philip Murray

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The Caledonian Sleeper.
The Caledonian Sleeper.

A fed-up rail passenger who uses the Caledonian Sleeper for business trips is going back to flying after a spate of incidents proved to be the final straw.

John Straw, a venture capitalist who was based in London until about five years ago, has been using the Caledonian Sleeper to travel to and from the UK capital from his home in the Elgin area after relocating to the Highlands.

He said he had discovered the charms of the Sleeper after moving to the region and quickly switched to the overnight rail service instead of flying.

But he claims his experiences of the service took a dive after the older rolling stock was replaced with new trains.

And he said a recent week had proven to be the last straw – with a two-and-a-half hour delay causing him to miss two meetings on one day, another day running a 40-minute, and then, when he tried to reschedule his missed meetings, changing tickets proved a logistical nightmare.

He explained: "On the Thursday I got notice from one of the cancelled meetings they wanted to re-arrange for Friday so I called in to change the ticket (unbelievably you can’t change a ticket on the website) to find out the call centre was entirely closed due to a tech malfunction."

"The bottom line is that for leisure where no-one really cares about timings it’s just fine, but for business it’s no longer fit for purpose so I’m switching back to BA (who are bound to put their prices up as they see the extra demand!)"

And he doesn't think he's alone in his experiences: "I don’t know any other passengers by name but there are a bunch of regulars and we all moan to each other."

He said his experiences with the Sleeper service began to go downhill after the new trains were introduced.

"I was based in London until five years ago. I wanted out of the rat race and wanted to come up here for the best of Scotland – Elgin way. I saw the opportunity as it has good communication links from the airport.

"Then to my delight I discovered the Caledonian – in its old run down highly charismatic [form]. I had some awesome evenings in the old fashioned bar car. It was reliable enough that I switched to it from the BA early morning flight to Heathrow.

"Then they changed to the new trains which was a complete disaster – nothing worked but that was Covid times so I wasn’t travelling much.

"In the past two years I’ve been travelling down one or two times a month and it gradually became less reliable – last week was terrible and I’m hearing from other regulars about its reliability issues."

He added that he felt for the staff, as he could not fault them for their level of service but felt the rolling stock let them down.

"The staff on the train and in the call centre are fantastic but the poor things spend most of their time apologising! Also there is never a quibble about money back – it’s automatic. I don’t want apologies or my money back I just don’t want to have to cancel meetings."

Responding to Mr Straw's experiences, a spokesperson for the Caledonian Sleeper said: "I am sorry to hear that the experience of the guest you reference has not lived up to their expectation.

"We want to make sure everyone has an enjoyable experience whether that be for leisure or business. On the rare occasions that Sleeper delays do occur there is a rail industry wide Delay Repay Compensation scheme which applies meaning that delays over 30 minutes receive a prompt 50 per cent refund and any delay over one hour is 100 per cent refund."

They added that delays on February 20 were only partially due to the Sleeper itself – a technical issue with the train southbound was coupled with an unrelated safety incident elsewhere on the network that slowed the journey further.

Another fault outwith the Caledonian Sleeper's control – a signal failure at Waverley Station in Edinburgh – was the cause of the delays on February 22.

"We would be happy to discuss any matters directly with the guest if they would like to reach out to us," added the spokesperson.

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