The depots that serve the ‘Caley Sleeper’ are a modeller’s dream, says Paul A. Lunn.
Rannoch Moor: is there any finer view to wake up to, with endless miles of rugged heather, beautiful lochs and the vista of distant mountains? The two shiny rails of the West Highland Railway, floating across the peat bog on a bed of rushes and turf, are the only signs of civilisation. It’s a breathtaking place at the best of times, but to see it at daybreak is something else. That glorious vista starts just the other side of your hotel window, close enough that you feel that you could just reach out and touch it. What’s even better is that the view from your hotel window is constantly changing – and that your hotel is being powered by two classic Southern Region electro-diesels! The Caledonian Sleeper is unique for many reasons. Firstly, unless you fancy camping, it’s the only way you can see Rannoch Moor at such a magical time in the morning. Secondly, it’s Britain’s only dedicated sleeper franchise (the Anglo-scottish sleeper service was split from previous operator Scotrail in 2015). And lastly, the four sleeper services that ply the West Coast Main Line every night are Britain’s longest passenger trains, comprising 16 bogie coaches. The sleeper services brought some welcome variation to a predominantly multiple unit-worked railway when under Scotrail. But new operator Serco and its traction provider GBRF have combined to make the Caledonian Sleeper arguably the most interesting operation on today’s railway. It’s the juxtaposition of old and new that makes studying or modelling the ‘Caley Sleeper’ such a mouth-watering proposition. It uses Britain’s newest electric locomotives (Class 92s) and Britain’s newest hauled coaching stock (the Mk 5s, which are so new that they’re still being tested). But GBRF has also brought classic diesel and electric traction back into frontline passenger service. Class 86s and 87s work empty stock in and out of Euston, and a Class 47 hauls empty stock from Glasgow Central to Polmadie depot. And, to top it all off, Class 73s – completely re-engineered, by the way – are in everyday use in Scotland, hundreds of miles away from their former Southern Region haunts. The problem for modellers is that you need a lot of space to do Scottish scenery justice, even if you model in ‘N’. But the sleeper’s journey starts in the West London suburbs, about as far removed from the tranquillity of the Scottish Highlands as it’s possible to be. Alstom’s Wembley Train care facility is the nerve centre for the English end of the Caledonian Sleeper. It’s here, in the shadow of Wembley stadium and surrounded by Virgin’s ‘Pendolinos’ and London Underground trains, that the sleeper’s Mk 2 and Mk 3 coaches are serviced. The urban background lends itself to building a small layout, but without compromising on the Caledonian Sleeper’s fascinating operation.