Caledonian Sleeper

MrEd

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Is it perhaps the case that there are different classes of traveller depending on the destination? Fort William and Inverness i would suspect are dominated by the tourist market whereas the other routes with Aberdeen and Glasgow in particular being used by a more business / family/ home town visit type of traveller. Weekend breaks and short trips both to Europe and within the UK appear to have become ever more popular over the last few years but i cannot ever recall any of my colleagues / friends in London saying that they had used the sleeper for a visit to Scotland, with the exception of a few working in the rail industry. i get the impression it is just not on the radar for most so there is perhaps a large domestic market that is untapped and CS could market accordingly as a practical way of travel rather than a UK version of the Orient Express. Others (mainly Scottish) who are aware of the service immediately dismiss it as being 'far too expensive'.
I agree that there must be an untapped domestic market- perhaps also for folk living in the West Highlands who need to travel to southern England for family visits etc who live nowhere near an airport but have a convenient sleeper connection at Fort William.

I can imagine that a lot of these folk are concerned not only at the cost but also at the fact that (in their eyes, because they’re not interested in the touristy gimmicks) it isn’t necessarily good value for money compared with the old service. It was quite common to hear Highland voices in the lounge car of both the Inverness and Fort William services in Scotrail days but it’s very rare that you hear one these days. These would probably have been mostly one-off travellers but their custom could be valuable in a year in which the well-heeled foreign tourist is unlikely to be present on the sleeper in large numbers. I suspect that a lot of these travellers were lost to the airlines from Inverness (or other means) after the sleeper became too expensive for them.
 
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paul1609

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I think its a lot longer than the Scotrail days since there's been significant local use of the West Highland sleeper. No where on the West Highland is actually that far from an airport now, even Fort William is only just over 2hrs drive from Glasgow Airport via the Erskine bridge, the Citylink Bus is scheduled for 3 hours but often arrives early. Another factor is since the West Coast Mainline Modernisation the lunchtime day train from the West Highland has a connection that gets in to London at a reasonable time with advance tickets starting at £50ish. Don't forget that the original Scotrail franchise specification didn't include the Fort William service in 1995 and it was only included following a legal challenge and strong political pressure plus an additional £700,000 subsidy. It being a largely tourist railway predates Serco management by some years.
 

TimboM

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Come on Transport Scotland and CS, advertise the sleeper for what it is, a high quality sleeper train, not what it can never be, a hotel on wheels, and price it appropriately.
What is an appropriate price? The current prices passengers pay only cover 40% of the cost of running the trains. There's very, very few things you can get in life where you only pay 40% of what it actually costs for you to be have / use that product. That's an absolute bargain.
 

MrEd

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What is an appropriate price? The current prices passengers pay only cover 40% of the cost of running the trains. There's very, very few things you can get in life where you only pay 40% of what it actually costs for you to be have / use that product. That's an absolute bargain.
I never thought of it that way, but actually you’re right. What we as consumers cannot begin to imagine is how much it costs to run the sleeper each night. I think if we saw a detailed breakdown of the actual costs we’d probably be quite taken aback. This, of course, is why the much vaunted bargain berths of Scotrail days will never return (I think we‘ll all have to accept that).

I think its a lot longer than the Scotrail days since there's been significant local use of the West Highland sleeper. No where on the West Highland is actually that far from an airport now, even Fort William is only just over 2hrs drive from Glasgow Airport via the Erskine bridge, the Citylink Bus is scheduled for 3 hours but often arrives early. Another factor is since the West Coast Mainline Modernisation the lunchtime day train from the West Highland has a connection that gets in to London at a reasonable time with advance tickets starting at £50ish. Don't forget that the original Scotrail franchise specification didn't include the Fort William service in 1995 and it was only included following a legal challenge and strong political pressure plus an additional £700,000 subsidy. It being a largely tourist railway predates Serco management by some years.
You’re probably right- my experiences of Scotrail go back to 2010, though they were fairly sporadic until 2014. I never actually realised how much quicker it was to get by road from Glasgow Airport to Fort William than from Central Glasgow (easily 3 hours in high summer)- I see how that is now.

I must say I’ve only ever used that Citylink bus to get from Spean Bridge to Kyle (that must be the same route, the 915) but unless you have a discount card or a bus pass the fares strike me as eye-watering. For the well-heeled tourist and occasional visitor who’s already splashed the cash on the sleeper, myself included, it hardly matters (and it’s an amazing journey from Spean to Kyle) but I know a lot of locals in and around Kyle for whom the Citylink bus to Glasgow is beyond their financial reach (preferring to take the slower rail route via Inverness and Perth which offers a considerable saving, or to cadge a lift off pals). Again, I’m sure that Transport Scotland (who must already be subsidising it massively) has decided that the tourist is the better market to pursue.
 
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paul1609

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Ive stayed at Kyle quite a bit over the years because of Butec. The actual population of the place is pretty small circa 750. Many of those work for qinetic. If you live in that sort of place you have a car, if the locals want to go to Glasgow they drive. Public transport up there primarily exists for tourists the fact that it also provides a social service is a bonus.
 

BRX

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Public transport in the Highlands exists as a public service. Not everyone owns a car or is able to drive. Rail services in particular are indeed also used by tourists, but it's the revenue from tourist travel that is a "bonus", not the other way round. If it were to become politically acceptable (and it shouldn't) to have no public transport in the Highlands, then there would be virtually none. It wouldn't be kept going by tourist traffic alone. It doesn't exist "primarily for tourists".
 

Davester50

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Public transport in the Highlands exists as a public service. Not everyone owns a car or is able to drive. Rail services in particular are indeed also used by tourists, but it's the revenue from tourist travel that is a "bonus", not the other way round. If it were to become politically acceptable (and it shouldn't) to have no public transport in the Highlands, then there would be virtually none. It wouldn't be kept going by tourist traffic alone. It doesn't exist "primarily for tourists".
Public Transport exists in all areas as a public service.
"The Highlands" isn't much different for car ownership than the rest of Scotland and North England. There's higher levels of car ownership than the 4 major Scottish cities, and several other rural, non-Highland areas.
(The RAC has data on car ownership availability based on 2011 Census data.)

IMHO, the sleeper is now pricing itself as Event/Experience Travel, rather than public transport.
 

route101

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I never thought of it that way, but actually you’re right. What we as consumers cannot begin to imagine is how much it costs to run the sleeper each night. I think if we saw a detailed breakdown of the actual costs we’d probably be quite taken aback. This, of course, is why the much vaunted bargain berths of Scotrail days will never return (I think we‘ll all have to accept that).


You’re probably right- my experiences of Scotrail go back to 2010, though they were fairly sporadic until 2014. I never actually realised how much quicker it was to get by road from Glasgow Airport to Fort William than from Central Glasgow (easily 3 hours in high summer)- I see how that is now.

I must say I’ve only ever used that Citylink bus to get from Spean Bridge to Kyle (that must be the same route, the 915) but unless you have a discount card or a bus pass the fares strike me as eye-watering. For the well-heeled tourist and occasional visitor who’s already splashed the cash on the sleeper, myself included, it hardly matters (and it’s an amazing journey from Spean to Kyle) but I know a lot of locals in and around Kyle for whom the Citylink bus to Glasgow is beyond their financial reach (preferring to take the slower rail route via Inverness and Perth which offers a considerable saving, or to cadge a lift off pals). Again, I’m sure that Transport Scotland (who must already be subsidising it massively) has decided that the tourist is the better market to pursue.
The Citylink fares are dear, day return from Glasgow to Kyle is something like £64. Better of buying an explorer. The cheap advance fares don't seem to exist on Citylink anymore, just Apex ones. I think train fares Glasgow to Fort William arent too bad and reasonable if you have a railcard.
 

InOban

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Remember that in Scotland there's a national 'bus pass' which includes coach services such as City link. Most passengers travel free.
 

route101

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Remember that in Scotland there's a national 'bus pass' which includes coach services such as City link. Most passengers travel free.
True, I know some older people who use the pass to Glasgow Buchanan Bus Station, sit in for a tea at Greggs for a day out.

I agree that there must be an untapped domestic market- perhaps also for folk living in the West Highlands who need to travel to southern England for family visits etc who live nowhere near an airport but have a convenient sleeper connection at Fort William.

I can imagine that a lot of these folk are concerned not only at the cost but also at the fact that (in their eyes, because they’re not interested in the touristy gimmicks) it isn’t necessarily good value for money compared with the old service. It was quite common to hear Highland voices in the lounge car of both the Inverness and Fort William services in Scotrail days but it’s very rare that you hear one these days. These would probably have been mostly one-off travellers but their custom could be valuable in a year in which the well-heeled foreign tourist is unlikely to be present on the sleeper in large numbers. I suspect that a lot of these travellers were lost to the airlines from Inverness (or other means) after the sleeper became too expensive for them.
I would use the sleeper more often but is too dear, If I use it its only one way only. Its terribly convenient for getting to London early.
 

BRX

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Like most things on this thread, we've been over it multiple times before but allowing the share-with-a-stranger cabin arrangement again (for those who want it) would be one way of making pricing more attractive for locals.
 

paul1609

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The Citylink fares are dear, day return from Glasgow to Kyle is something like £64. Better of buying an explorer. The cheap advance fares don't seem to exist on Citylink anymore, just Apex ones. I think train fares Glasgow to Fort William arent too bad and reasonable if you have a railcard.
Is £64 actually expensive though? Glasgow to Kyle is 182 miles and 4 hours thats about the same distance as London to Manchester Airport. Thats about 17.5 pence per mile, around a third of the price we are paying stagecoach for a rural fare in Kent on a 12 year old banger.
 

route101

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Is £64 actually expensive though? Glasgow to Kyle is 182 miles and 4 hours thats about the same distance as London to Manchester Airport. Thats about 17.5 pence per mile, around a third of the price we are paying stagecoach for a rural fare in Kent on a 12 year old banger.
I suppose its not in that comparison, but fares are cheaper to Inverness and Aberdeen, more competition I guess.
 

paul1609

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I suppose its not in that comparison, but fares are cheaper to Inverness and Aberdeen, more competition I guess.
I suspect that the market isnt big enough on that route. Ive had a load of weekends when Ive gone up on the citylink bus to Skye from the swan roundabout at balloch. Outside of the peak summer season the bus is unlikely to be more than half full to Fort William, from there onwards a dozen would be the norm. Thats a lot of wages and diesel to be split amongst the dozen.
 

MrEd

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Public transport in the Highlands exists as a public service. Not everyone owns a car or is able to drive. Rail services in particular are indeed also used by tourists, but it's the revenue from tourist travel that is a "bonus", not the other way round. If it were to become politically acceptable (and it shouldn't) to have no public transport in the Highlands, then there would be virtually none. It wouldn't be kept going by tourist traffic alone. It doesn't exist "primarily for tourists".
That’s true but if you price the local community (who are often not affluent) out of the market then you’ve effectively made it into a tourist service by default. I think the problem is that it’s a vicious circle: rural areas have very sparse populations, so public transport requires significant subsidy. The locals don’t often use it as it doesn’t run at convenient times or doesn’t serve their village/community, so they end up driving. It becomes less and less profitable until the result is either cutting it completely or fare increases. I don’t see what the solution is. That said, very few locals are going to pay £12 return on a bus from Dornie to Kyle of Lochalsh (8 miles) which probably doesn’t run at times convenient for them- if they’ll have a car they’ll use it and if they don’t (and there are some that don’t) they’ll easily arrange a lift off someone going in the right direction (these are generally very close-knit communities and there are always folk willing to help out).

That said, I’ve always found Scotrail’s fares on the West Highland Line and Kyle line trains to be fairly reasonable, and on the Highland Main Line too. I presume Scotrail can use the cross-subsidy from its profitable operations in the Central Belt?

Remember that in Scotland there's a national 'bus pass' which includes coach services such as City link. Most passengers travel free.
Who is eligible for that? I thought it was over-60s and those with disabilities but I could be wrong (I think the Scottish Government are in the process of making it free for under-25s too if I’ve heard right).

Like most things on this thread, we've been over it multiple times before but allowing the share-with-a-stranger cabin arrangement again (for those who want it) would be one way of making pricing more attractive for locals.
Sadly, though, the pandemic would have put paid to that even if it had carried on. I doubt anyone’s going to want to go back to that after Covid either, even when social distancing finally is abandoned, so it’s probably a non-starter I’m afraid.
 

Bald Rick

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I presume Scotrail can use the cross-subsidy from its profitable operations in the Central Belt?

Scotrail is funded at TOC level, so there is no conscious cross subsidy between routes. However, I’d be surprised if any of their routes made money, with the possible exception of the E&G.
 

InOban

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You're correct about the bus pass, but in rural areas that covers a lot of the population. Without their government - funded travel there would be no citylink services in the Highlands.
 

Andrew1395

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Will be interesting to see if this service survives the pos5 March 2022 reorganisation of Scottish railways. With the pandemic likely to have longer term impacts on premium end leisure travel by overseas tourists. I am not sure if domestic demand will compensate.

you can see the discount airlines (if summer holidays to Europe are off this year), desperately trying t9 grab some domestic flight revenue. In the same way Ryan air from Luton killed off much of the London Holyhead to Ireland traffic, I could see that happening on Anglo Scots flows.

The next 18 months are going to be tough for Caledonian sleepers.
 

Bletchleyite

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It wouldn't surprise me if the Aberdeen went as it would make things hugely operationally easier, and it would make the FW more attractive in the seats not to have to walk down the platform at Edinburgh at 4am (and mean a full coach of seats could be sold rather than half a one). They could also potentially have a separate seats and lounge car attached as a FW daytime train at busy times of year as they'd have a pair spare.

I would be very surprised if the Lowlander survived HS2, but I reckon it'll hang around before that. If HS2 does kill the Lowlander, that's a couple of spare sets of coaches to send down to Cornwall to replace the knackered-by-then Mk3s.
 

TimboM

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Will be interesting to see if this service survives the pos5 March 2022 reorganisation of Scottish railways. With the pandemic likely to have longer term impacts on premium end leisure travel by overseas tourists. I am not sure if domestic demand will compensate.

you can see the discount airlines (if summer holidays to Europe are off this year), desperately trying t9 grab some domestic flight revenue. In the same way Ryan air from Luton killed off much of the London Holyhead to Ireland traffic, I could see that happening on Anglo Scots flows.

The next 18 months are going to be tough for Caledonian sleepers.
Loadings were high during the relaxation of restrictions in mid-2020 (and there wouldn't have been that many foreign tourists). The services are currently reasonably populated (esp to INV) even though technically full restrictions are still in place. Restrictions on foreign travel also work both ways - lots more people staying in the UK with their "holiday budgets" to spend.

It's arguably the most Covid-secure mode of Anglo-Scottish travel available and the airlines are rumoured to be ramping up prices to recover losses, not dropping them.

The Sleeper has been effectively 'nationalised' for a year now with the Scottish Government funding it via an Emergency Measures Agreement to run almost at empty at times as an essential service. There's a lot of money and political reputations already invested in the service.

I suspect the trials of Load 12 and Load 10 trains to Inverness and Fort William respectively were for a reason (i.e. max loadings in the summer as the current train lengths don't provide enough capacity).

Quite the contrary, therefore - the next 18 months look pretty promising.
 

Bletchleyite

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Quite the contrary, therefore - the next 18 months look pretty promising.

I think I'd say the Highlander looks promising (other than possibly Aberdeen) but the Lowlander much less so.

Will be interesting to see if First East Coast puts a further dent in Highlander traffic, as it offers a much earlier arrival in Edinburgh from London than present day trains offer.
 

Bald Rick

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the airlines are rumoured to be ramping up prices to recover losses, not dropping them.

No evidence of that from what I can see. Flights over the summer are booking up quick, which is leading to fares rising (as with any yield managed transport), but you can still get London to Inverness on the Saturday after the school’s break up in July for £30.

Will be interesting to see if First East Coast puts a further dent in Highlander traffic, as it offers a much earlier arrival in Edinburgh from London than present day trains offer.

Not this summer!
 

MrEd

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Will be interesting to see if this service survives the pos5 March 2022 reorganisation of Scottish railways. With the pandemic likely to have longer term impacts on premium end leisure travel by overseas tourists. I am not sure if domestic demand will compensate.

you can see the discount airlines (if summer holidays to Europe are off this year), desperately trying t9 grab some domestic flight revenue. In the same way Ryan air from Luton killed off much of the London Holyhead to Ireland traffic, I could see that happening on Anglo Scots flows.

The next 18 months are going to be tough for Caledonian sleepers.
The sleeper is no longer run by Scotrail so the changes in March 2022 will not affect it (unless Serco decide to pull the plug too, which seems unlikely). CS still have until 2030 (that’s when the franchise ends) so it will last until then. That’s not to say that the operations will stay exactly the same, I don’t think, but the sleeper will still run (and probably still serve all the destinations listed in the franchise agreement) until then.
 

PG

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I think I'd say the Highlander looks promising (other than possibly Aberdeen) but the Lowlander much less so.

Will be interesting to see if First East Coast puts a further dent in Highlander traffic, as it offers a much earlier arrival in Edinburgh from London than present day trains offer.
From what I can tell it is an hour earlier, so in respect of the Highlander surely that just means catching whatever connection an hour earlier in Edinburgh and thus arriving an hour earlier at your eventual destination?
 

MrEd

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Will be interesting to see if this service survives the pos5 March 2022 reorganisation of Scottish railways. With the pandemic likely to have longer term impacts on premium end leisure travel by overseas tourists. I am not sure if domestic demand will compensate.

you can see the discount airlines (if summer holidays to Europe are off this year), desperately trying t9 grab some domestic flight revenue. In the same way Ryan air from Luton killed off much of the London Holyhead to Ireland traffic, I could see that happening on Anglo Scots flows.

The next 18 months are going to be tough for Caledonian sleepers.
I can imagine there will be a lot of folk attracted to the sleeper as a socially distanced means of transport, as @TimboM has rightly said. Many folk, myself included, are in no hurry to return to airports or planes while this virus is still a problem, especially as they are one of the highest risk environments for transmission. I‘m fairly sure that CS- if they price and market it appropriately- can win some new custom.

The trains to Inverness and Fort William were very busy after lockdown ended last July and August. Punctuality was excellent last summer and the Mk5s seemed to be over their teething troubles (more or less). I think that passenger satisfaction is undoubtedly on the rise and that will increase all the time (it is a well-known fact that passengers moan far less about minor issues if the sleeper is on time; the same probably goes for any train service).


From what I can tell it is an hour earlier, so in respect of the Highlander surely that just means catching whatever connection an hour earlier in Edinburgh and thus arriving an hour earlier at your eventual destination?
It probably wouldn’t make a great deal of difference in a lot of cases, as trains from Edinburgh to Inverness, and also from Glasgow to Fort William, have a less than hourly frequency. You’ll probably end up just hanging around in Edinburgh (or Glasgow?) for an hour waiting for the Inverness or Fort William service you would have caught anyway.
 

Bald Rick

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From what I can tell it is an hour earlier, so in respect of the Highlander surely that just means catching whatever connection an hour earlier in Edinburgh and thus arriving an hour earlier at your eventual destination?

The first EC arrival gets to Waverley in time for the 1037 to Inverness, the first LNER arrival means you have to wait for the 1333, or if you feel brave catch the 1202 to Stirling and change there for Inverness.
 

PG

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The first EC arrival gets to Waverley in time for the 1037 to Inverness, the first LNER arrival means you have to wait for the 1333, or if you feel brave catch the 1202 to Stirling and change there for Inverness.
Fair point :). That's the difference between having the afternoon in the Highland capital or just the evening.
 

TimboM

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The sleeper is no longer run by Scotrail so the changes in March 2022 will not affect it (unless Serco decide to pull the plug too, which seems unlikely). CS still have until 2030 (that’s when the franchise ends) so it will last until then. That’s not to say that the operations will stay exactly the same, I don’t think, but the sleeper will still run (and probably still serve all the destinations listed in the franchise agreement) until then.
Caledonian Sleepers is currently operated under an Emergency Measures Agreement (EMA) whereby Transport Scotland fund it and pay Serco a small single digit % margin on their operating costs to run it.

The Franchise agreement is such that this (from a funding position at least) is pretty much how it would work from April 2022 - with a provision that if Transport Scotland don't cover Serco's costs in this way that they can exit the agreement.

It's likely that we won't be out of "Covid special measures" that many months before April 2022. Adding to that what's happened with ScotRail and several of the English/Welsh TOC franchises so far I'd say there's a high likelihood that the way forward for CS will reflect the EMA / April 2022 onwards Franchise position, with Transport Scotland fully funding it and Serco running it on their behalf (assuming both parties want that to continue).

The only question really is exactly how that will be set up - e.g. use the existing Franchise mechanism or rip that up and introduce some form of managed services contract? The latter option would free both parties of the existing Franchise and make it easier to move forward with some of the options discussed previously, e.g. longer trains to more popular destinations, removing less popular routes/calling points, removing the "day train" requirements, etc.
 

AberdeenBill

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The only question really is exactly how that will be set up - e.g. use the existing Franchise mechanism or rip that up and introduce some form of managed services contract? The latter option would free both parties of the existing Franchise and make it easier to move forward with some of the options discussed previously, e.g. longer trains to more popular destinations, removing less popular routes/calling points, removing the "day train" requirements, etc.
I think this is likely to be the way forward, with the less popular routes being removed to limit costs. However, it may also open opportunities, with domestic leisure travel receiving a boost post-pandemic and many people still wary of travel abroad. The Scottish Government may then be more willing than ever to support to tourist routes whilst sacrificing Glasgow and Aberdeen. Whilst not really for this forum, it will be interesting to see how the shape of UK railways looks in a few years time, if remote working vastly reduces commuter numbers and inter-city business journeys compared to the volume and predicted growth on which the existing TOCS won their franchises.
 

Drumtochty

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To be honest folks. After taking early retirement from a major oil company in Aberdeen 10 years ago and now still consulting after my state pension age for about 15 days per year to get out from under the good ladies’ feet.


I have found that in a total of three major Oil companies and four large contracting organisations, all the companies have say 70% of people actually doing a real job, 20% not particularly busy or able to provide the information they are employed to produce and you have to go to one of the 70% mentioned above to get a reasonable answer to a question, not a particularly hard question!

Let's not even talk about the other 10% of the office staff.

I see the medium term, demand from commuters, commuting to large metropolitan centres being very reduced to at best 70%, if we get everyone back to work. Then if we only do three days a week in the office, we are getting at best to say 50% of 2019 commuters on the railways on a daily basis.
Until the vaccine has been applied to all the population including the reported third vaccination in the Autumn, I am less than convinced that fullish trains, not full trains will be that safe from a covid spread point of view.
 

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