New Caledonian Sleeper to launch in October

New Caledonian Sleeper to launch in October

Report by Alex McWhirter

Hauled through the Channel Tunnel the first five new coaches for Caledonian Sleeper have arrived in Glasgow.

All told 75 coaches have been ordered from CAF of Spain to relaunch Caledonian Sleeper at a cost of £100 million.

The new more luxurious rolling stock will replace the existing British Rail coaches dating from the 1980s.

Much of the sleeper accommodation will have en-suite facilities (the current stock has no en-suite facilities). In addition, passengers booking a room will be guaranteed solo occupancy (unless sharing with a partner).

The downside will be higher prices from October.

One-way journeys are:

  • Comfort (sit-up) seats from £45
  • Classic rooms (twin or single) from £85 per person
  • Club rooms (en-suite) from £125 per person
  • Suites (double bed en-suite) from £200 per person.

Seemingly most of the accommodation is aimed at the business and wealthy leisure markets.

One advantage is that the sleeper train makes a number of en route stops at towns/cities in Scotland which have no easy access to an airport.

Another advantage is that the overnight train (with its higher standards) will, it is hoped, be a realistic alternative to paying for costly hotel accommodation and especially in London and Edinburgh.

Serco, which took over the franchise from Scotrail in 2015, reports a 21 per cent increase in passenger numbers after years of decline.

The new rolling stock will initially debut on the “Lowlander” route linking London Euston with Edinburgh and Glasgow. At a later date they will take over the other services between London, Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William.

Tickets will be available for booking from next month (exact date yet to be confirmed).

Humza Yousaf MSP (minister for transport and islands) said “The Caledonian Sleeper is an iconic rail service recognised in Scotland and across the world. The introduction of new rolling stock with features new to UK rail, can only enhance its reputation.”






Hyperloop unveils potential high-speed routes in Europe and America

Hyperloop passengers

Hyperloop Unveils Potential High-Speed Transit Routes in Europe, America

By Bob Curley

Maglev-powered transport pods, floating in a resistance-free vacuum, may someday whisk passengers and cargo across nine routes in Europe and 11 routes in the United States at speeds of up to 620 mph (1,000 km/h), with three of the nine European routes proposed by Hyperloop One located in the U.K.

Officials of the Los Angeles based company unveiled their proposed European routes at an Amsterdam summit meeting on June 6, 2017, saying the transport network could eventually connect over 75 million people in 44 cities, spanning 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometers). “Our vision is to, one day, connect all of Europe with our Hyperloop One system, networking the entire continent,” said company co-founder and executive chairman Shervin Pishevar.

The proposed European routes would include Corsica-Sardinia, Estonia-Finland, Spain-Morocco, and routes spanning Germany, Poland, and the Netherlands. In the U.K., hyperloop trains would run from London to Edinburgh, Liverpool to Glasgow, and Cardiff to Glasgow, the Telegraph ( reported June 7, 2017.

Announced in April 2017, the proposed U.S. Hyperloop routes would include Boston-Somerset-Providence, Cheyenne-Houston, Chicago-Columbus-Pittsburgh, Denver-Colorado Springs, Denver-Vail, Kansas City-St. Louis, Los Angeles-San Diego, Miami-Orlando, Reno-Las Vegas, Seattle-Portland; and Dallas/Fort Worth-Austin-San Antonio-Houston.

Hyperloop One is currently testing it technology at a track in the Nevada desert.

SNCF to replace TGV with inOui?

SNCF train

SNCF to replace TGV with inOui  ?

Report by Alex McWhirter

For many decades SNCF’s famous high-speed TGVs have successfully connected the regions of France to its capital city of Paris.

However in a press conference being held tomorrow (Monday) in France, SNCF is expected to announce the rebranding of TGV.

Why ?

Because in recent years the high-speed product has become  stale. With TGV (Train a Grande Vitesse) losing some of its allure.

Since domestic aviation was liberalised a growing number of lucrative business customers have defected to low-cost domestic airlines.

Cost-conscious travellers, who have no interest in sprinting between cities at 300 kph,  are increasingly switching to cheaper bus services.    (Note: Bus firms, once banned from operating long distance domestic routes,  can now compete with SNCF)

Now – xtor=RSS-1481423633

reports that France’s rail operator is expected to refresh its TGV product with the catchy name of inOui.

Rachel Picard (@RPicard_SNCF) a senior SNCF executive tweeted “A TGV is [just] a TGV.  We want to develop a new travel experience.”

But as the news breaks in France many people wonder why SNCF wants to eliminate the TGV brand which is recognisable worldwide.

Interviewed by franceinfo – xtref=

Jean-Marc Lehu, professor-researcher of brand strategy at Paris’  Sorbonne said, “This is a real mistake. We destroy a brand.”

Consultant Mark Jansen (@jansenMark) tweeted, “SNCF rebranding the TGV as inOui.  Either very brave or very stupid to abandon such an iconic brand.  Ouigo to remain as their low-cost brand.”

In previous years SNCF has already created special TGV brands.

There is Ouigo  (see Online News, February 25, 2013)

and more recently IZY (pronounced ‘easy’ ) – see Online news March 27, 2016.

Both the above replicate the business models of low-cost airlines.

According to Le Parisien the new inOui name will appear on the classic TGVs which will operate over the new Paris-Bordeaux line from July 2.

The name will then be applied to those classic TGVs operating Paris-Lyon and Paris-Strasbourg by the end of the year.  Other routes will follow in 2018.

Overall some 30 months is being allowed for the rebranding.   Ouigo and IZY will remain as separate low-cost TGV services.

SNCF’s low-cost Ouigo (which is ticketless and tends to operate from out-of-town locations rather like Ryanair) has proven to be a success.

France’s rail operator now wants Ouigo to carry five times as many passengers by 2020 as it does at present.

SNCF hopes Ouigo will be carrying 25 million passengers in three years’ time to provide it with a 25 per cent share of domestic high-speed passenger traffic.




Hong Kong MTR proposes Airport Express price increase

Hong Kong Airport Express MTR

The cost of a ticket on Hong Kong’s Airport Express rail link may be set to increase by 10.3 per cent as early as June, the South China Morning Post reports. The price hike would be the line’s first since it first began operations 19 years ago.

According to the proposed increase submitted to the Legislative Council of Hong Kong by The MTR Corporation on Tuesday, the cost of an adult Octopus travel card fare between in-town stations and Hong Kong International Airport and the nearby AsiaWorld-Expo would increase by HK$5-10 (US$0.6-1.3), while adult single journey tickets would rise by HK$10-15 (US$1.3-1.9).

Meanwhile adult fares of long validity round-trip tickets would increase by HK$15-30 (US$1.9-3.9).

Currently a single fare ticket from Hong Kong Station in Central district to the airport is HK$100 (US$14.1), while the fare from Kowloon Station is HK$90 (US$11.6). Under the proposed increase, these would increase to HK$110 (US$14.1) and HK$100, respectively.

However, promotional items including the Airport Express Group Tickets and Airport Travel Pass will remain unchanged.

According to the proposal, a significant increase in the operating cost of the Airport Express has necessitated the fare revision.

New Eurostar lounge at Paris Gare du Nord


New Eurostar lounge at Paris Gare du Nord

The Business Premier lounge has a menu created by Raymond Blanc OBE

Eurostar has opened its new lounge at Paris Gare du Nord.

The new Business Premier lounge has been designed by architects, Softroom, and is on the top floor of the original 19th century building. It features high ceilings, marble fireplaces, a cocktail bar and aims to capture the spirit of a Parisian apartment.

The lounge has complimentary wifi, USB sockets and wireless chargers, as well as a new circular black and gold cocktail bar with drinks designed by London Cocktail Club exclusively for Eurostar.

The lounge also features a range of contemporary art, curated by the Hospital Club in London, showcasing French artists, and the art will be on sale.

Michelin chef and Eurostar Business Premier Culinary Director, Raymond Blanc OBE, has advised on seasonal dishes and created a bespoke tea exclusively for the lounge created by Tregothnan, Britain’s first and only tea producer.

The lounge has an open kitchen and there is a range of canapés, healthy salads, juices, and hot and cold seasonal dishes, which Eurostar says will be gradually introduced throughout the year.

Nicolas Petrovic, Chief Executive, Eurostar, said:

“The opening of the new business lounge in Paris is part of a wide-reaching programme of investment in our stations and our service.  With its elegant design, calm environment and digital connectivity, the lounge will provide an unrivalled level of style and comfort for our business customers.”

Christopher Bagot, Director, Softroom, said:

“Moving the Business Premier lounge to a new location within Paris Gare du Nord has enabled us to transform the travellers journey. Set in the top floor of the station, we’ve re-imagined the striking architecture of the original building, and created a series of different spaces to suit all occasions. From the light-filled working area, to the relaxing cocktail bar, the lounge offers a flexible environment to suit all needs.”

Raymond Blanc OBE, Eurostar Business Premier Culinary Director, Eurostar, said:

“Business travellers are looking for flexibility and a variety of food options when they are on the go. From a light snack before boarding the train to something more substantial. The new lounge features a selection of dishes which we hope will satisfy all appetites. All made with high quality sustainable produce.”


SNCF increases delay compensation

Train station

France’s SNCF is emulating its UK counterparts. It will now pay passengers more generous compensation for late-running trains.

According to rail journal IRJ the new rules start on December 1 with SNCF paying delay compensation to passengers when their train is delayed by 30 mins or more.

Current EU regulations (these are not applied by the UK’s train firms) call for compensation to start when trains are delayed by at least one hour.  And even then the level of compensation is a rather miserly 25 per cent of the ticket price which is paid in the form of travel vouchers.

Passengers delayed by two hours or more can expect 50 per cent compensation while those delayed three hours or more can receive 75 per cent compensation.

By comparison the UK’s TOCs (train operating companies) are far more generous.

Most UK TOCs refund 50 per cent of the fare when the train is between 30 and 59 mins late and up to 100 per cent when the delay is between one hour and one hour 59 mins.

For delays of two hours or more passengers can expect a 100 per cent refund of the ticket price irrespective of whether they hold a single or a return.

And new rules enable passengers to stipulate whether they want the payment to be made in travel vouchers or cash.

Nevertheless according to watchdog Transport Focus under a half of all eligible passengers bother to claim delay compensation.

In its December newsletter “Voice” Transport Focus says the number of passengers claiming for delays has increased since 2013 from a mere 12 per cent to 35 per cent today.

Some 57 per cent of eligible passengers were not aware they could claim compensation or did not even think about it.


It’s because some TOCs are more proactive than others when advising passengers of their rights.

Government-operated East Coast and its forerunner Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC) have been praised by readers for informing passengers how to claim delay compensation when things go wrong.

VTEC staff have been known to hand out the relevant forms onboard the train or they meet passengers (with these forms) on arrival.

VTEC is 90 per cent owned by Stagecoach and just 10 per cent by Virgin.

Yet from my experience the opposite applies with East Midlands Trains (EMT) which is 100 per cent owned by Stagecoach.

Twice my EMT trains have been badly delayed in recent years and on both occasion onboard staff did not utter a word about delay compensation.

Just a fortnight ago my crowded London-bound EMT service was delayed by over one hour (a fallen tree in Derbyshire had blocked the line) so my arrival into St Pancras was around 65 mins behind schedule.

I was entitled to a full refund yet onboard staff kept mum.   How many of these passengers would have realised they could have travelled for free ?

Transport Focus wants the TOCs to make it easier for passengers to claim. It also wants the TOCs to better inform passengers of their rights.  But will they, I wonder?

Eurostar makes cutbacks


Eurostar makes cutbacks

Report by Alex McWhirter

A few days after we reported on Eurostar’s plans for Amsterdam comes news that the train operator is poised to make cutbacks.

Staff numbers are being trimmed at the train firm which is mostly owned by France’s SNCF.   The number of trains operating between London, Paris and Brussels will be slightly reduced.

The news should not come as a surprise.

Why ?  Because at the very end of last week’s news piece, we quoted Eurostar CEO Nicholas Petrovik as saying that, over the past six months, passenger numbers had fallen by 3 per cent but, more seriously, revenue had declined by 8 per cent. (See online news October 12)

For a train company used to almost continual growth during its 22 year history, it’s a worrying development.

First indications of the cutbacks emerged from the TSSA union, details of which appeared in Railway Gazette.

Passenger numbers have fallen in the aftermath of the terror attacks in Brussels and Paris.  Revenue has declined because, following the terror attacks, Eurostar had to market several seat sales in order to attract passengers.

Eurostar told Railway Gazette, “This is a challenging environment for all travel companies and we need to manage our costs very carefully.  That’s why we are looking at the size and shape of our business.”

And the falling passenger numbers did not solely concern Europeans.

They also take into account the many American and Asian travellers who use Eurostar to bridge the gap (between London, Paris and Brussels) when visiting Europe.

Unlike the airlines (who can change the size of their aircraft) Eurostar is hampered by its trainsets.  The original Alstom ones accommodated 750 passengers and the new Siemens trains carry a maximum of 900.

That equates to just one trainset having a passenger load of almost two A380 super jumbos.

The trains cannot be shortened if demand were to fall.  Channel Tunnel rules dictate the size and design of the Eurostar trainsets.

And now it seems that, with the order for 17 Siemens trains still unfulfilled (11 have so far been delivered), Eurostar will soon have too much capacity for its needs.

That explains why the train operator is taking the drastic step to scrap almost all its original Alstom trains over the next four years.


( see Online news, September 26)

It’s likely Eurostar will make some adjustments in December when the winter timetable comes into effect.  Business Traveller will update you as soon as we know.


Eurostar’s provisional Amsterdam schedules leaked:

No sooner had we told you about Eurostar’s plans for Amsterdam came news of the possible schedules.

Details were leaked by Belgium’s OV Magazine

and at this point we must stress that these timings have yet to be agreed by four railway administrations (Holland, Belgium, France and the UK) so there may be some changes.

But it is certain that Monday-Friday schedules will see two trains in each direction and will be suitable for business travellers.  Schedules on Saturday and Sunday vary.

From Monday to Friday, the morning train will depart London at 08.04 arriving into Amsterdam at 12.54 with the late afternoon train departing at 17.04 to terminate (in Amsterdam) at 21.54.

UK-bound trains will depart Amsterdam at 07.48 and 16.48 to arrive into London at 10.57 and 19.57.

All timings are local.  En route stops will be at Brussels, Antwerp, Rotterdam and Schiphol Airport.

But note that the plan is not to stop in Antwerp on the Amsterdam-London service.  Also note that Eurostar prefers to have the UK border checks undertaken at Brussels Midi rather than Lille.

Rail experts believe that 28 mins at Brussels Midi is insufficient time to clear a heavily booked train (like around 800 passengers) through UK border controls.

We await developments.









Eurostar remains on track for Amsterdam by the end of 2017


Back in September 2013 we reported on Eurostar’s announcement of a through train service from London to Amsterdam.

Eurostar plans Amsterdam service in December 2016

At that time the earliest start date was this coming December, a date later revised to the end of 2017.

And according to an interview with Eurostar’s CEO Nicholas Petrovik in Les Echos that date still stands.

Eurostar (majority owned by France’s SNCF) will operate twice daily services between the two cities with possible en route stops in Antwerp, Rotterdam and (Amsterdam) Schiphol.

The new service will be marketed to both business and leisure travellers with Eurostar expecting to woo passengers from one of Europe’s busiest air routes.

Trains will be formed of the 900-seat Siemens’ rolling stock which has wi-fi (unlike most of the original Alstom trainsets).

Overall journey time will be around four hours.  But because of the time difference you need to allow “five hours” for London-Amsterdam and “three hours” for the return.

And the Amsterdam-London timing will be extended because of the requirement for en route UK border controls. It is still unclear at which station they will take place.

In an emailed statement to Business Traveller, Eurostar says.

“The Amsterdam service is expected to start at the end of 2017 and that has been the case for some time.  Work is progressing well, with on track testing of the e320s having started in April of this year. We continue to work closely with the relevant authorities to advance discussions on border checks, with the aim of finding a solution which will allow us to provide a fast and efficient service for our customers.”

In other news from Les Echos:

  • A new lounge at Paris Nord is scheduled to open in the near future.
  • But passenger numbers and revenue have fallen in the first six months of the year. There are 3 per cent fewer passengers. Revenue has declined by 8 per cent.  The CEO says there are fewer American and Japanese travellers “who are very important for Eurostar”  taking the service at present.

Eurostar to scrap trainsets


Fans of Eurostar’s original French trainsets will be disappointed to learn that most now face the scrapyard.

So far there has been little publicity about the scrappage.

But Business Traveller can reveal that from now, and over the next few years, the 27 Alstom-built 18-coach trainsets will be reduced to just eight. And all of these eight will be refurbished.

It had been thought Eurostar would retain more of the originals in order to cope with future growth.

But the die was cast when, a while back, Eurostar decided to increase its initial order of 10 new German-built trains to 17.

Eurostar’s new 16-coach trainsets (branded e320) are being manufactured by Siemens.

A few of the Siemens trains entered service late last year.  Currently they operate only to Paris and on an ad hoc basis.

But next year they will be approved for use to Brussels and Amsterdam.

These Siemens trains are capable of operating to more European countries than their Alstom counterparts.

So far only two of the original Alstom trainsets have been refurbished (and rebranded e300) to date. Another six will follow.

One suspects that those “tired” trainsets (the ones about which many readers have complained) will be the first for the scrapyard.

The Siemens trains come with the latest technology including onboard wifi.

But initial passenger feedback was mixed.  According to a report last December passengers complained about “hard seating” and “bright lighting.”

Eurostar’s original Alstom trains are 22 years old. That’s still young by rail industry standards when you consider that the diesel HSTs which form the mainstay of the Great Western fleet are over 35 years old.

So could their life be extended ?

Not really. Multi-voltage electric trains are complex. Reliability becomes an issue.

Why cannot they be used to boost UK domestic capacity ?

There are many reasons why this isn’t possible. But one example would be their length. At 18 coaches long they would be excluded from most if not all UK domestic stations.

It is true that some Eurostar trains did operate within the UK.*  But these were regional 12-coach trainsets (leased by GNER for the London-Leeds route) which were later transferred to France’s SNCF.

Eurostar emailed a statement to Business Traveller which says, “Over recent years we have been carrying out a complete overhaul of our fleet which includes the introduction of 17 new e320 trains and the refurbishment of some of our original sets.”

“The refurbishment is going well and we now have two e300s in commercial service. (Our new fleet will consist of 17 e320s plus eight e300 trains).”

“As each e320 carries 900 passengers, which represents 20 per cent more seats than the original trains, we are now well placed to meet future growth and demand.”

“With these new trains which have more seats and the capability to go to new destinations we no longer need to keep all of our original trains.”

“That is why we have taken the decision to have some of the sets recycled.”

Note: * Eurostar was allocated a subfleet of 12-coach regional trains. These were intended to operate daytime services between the Midlands, North of England, Scotland and mainland Europe. But the plans never came to fruition.