Recently, the sleeper service between London and points Scottish has come under the threat of having its funding withdrawn. Whilst this lunacy seems to be diminishing after a rare outbreak of common sense, perhaps now’s a good time to consider why these services are so vital to the wellbeing of their users.
The first thing to say is that I’m not rampantly anti-aviation. I think it would be a good thing if we all took fewer, and shorter flights, but there are times when obviously only the plane will do. In the UK we have the real advantage that nowhere is really all that far from anywhere else. Admittedly, if you live in Truro and get asked to a forty minute business meeting in Inverness then you should probably think twice about whether a conference call might not be a better idea; but there is generally no need to be leaping on the plane for an internal flight every couple of days.
A couple of years ago I was travelling regularly from London to Edinburgh on business, and you got to recognise the same faces standing in the queue for security at 0630 on a Monday morning. I just couldn’t understand how people could keep up this existence for any length of time. Of course, I realise that some people make calculations based on needing to do it – in order to see more of their children and have a workable home life - but it did seem to me that this sort of extreme commuting meant serious compromises in other areas of life, and high levels of stress and exhaustion.
After a while I investigated the possibility of taking the sleeper instead of the plane – I’m generally pretty positive about rail travel anyway, and it seemed to have been the right solution for Richard Hanney….
Quite simply, it was a revelation. Yes it takes longer – London to Scotland and back in 30 odd hours instead of say 14, but it opens up time for much better use than standing in queues or waiting for the transfer bus to a far distant airport car park.
Given my general antipathy to London, the sleeper at least gives me the opportunity to go and have dinner with those of my friends who haven’t yet managed to escape! From the restaurant or bar a quick tube to Euston sees me on the train and in bed by midnight, before being lulled to sleep by the motion of the train as it makes its way out through the northern suburbs and onto the West Coast mainline.
The berths are spartan but comfortable, and if you know the dates you want to travel a decent time in advance then you can usually get a cabin to yourself for about the same price as a business internal flight. When you wake up it’s to the sight of the Pentland Hills rolling past the window, and you’re into Edinburgh in time for a shower, breakfast, and a read of the paper before your nine am meeting. You’re less stressed, better rested, and arguably better able to perform. That night, simply repeat the process with your Edinburgh based friends….
Of course, this sort of thing is made a lot easier if you’re single, and don’t have a partner or family who may be less enthusiastic about you spending more time away than you technically have to, but, if you can get away with it, then it really is the only way to travel.
If the sleeper service was withdrawn tomorrow then the world would still keep turning, and most people would carry on without batting an eyelid, but something that makes Britain ever so slightly more civilised would have vanished; in the long run that would make us all the poorer.