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Call for Sleeper services to be extended to canal boats between Edinburgh and Glasgow

Published 01 April 2015 by Colin Howden

Transform Scotland

Strictly embargoed for use until 00:01 on Wednesday 1 April 2015

Call for Sleeper services to be extended to canal boats between Edinburgh and Glasgow

Transform Scotland [1] has today (Wednesday 1st) called for the reintroduction of canal sleeper services between Edinburgh and Glasgow during this summer’s electrification of the main rail line between the cities. [2] Transform Scotland is making the call on the same day that Serco takes over a revamped Caledonian Sleeper rail service from Scotland to London.

Transform Scotland director Colin Howden said:

“This summer’s six-week closure of the main Edinburgh to Glasgow rail line will prove a major inconvenience to those travelling between our two major cities. But Scotland’s new sleeper services launched today provide the Scottish Government with an opportunity for some lateral thinking about how the impact on the travelling public can be minimised. We are this morning recommending that Scottish Ministers reintroduce fast canal sleeper services between the cities. We’re sure that business travellers between the cities would prefer a restful night’s sleep on a canal boat to a bus replacement service during the morning rush hour.”

Colin Howden continued:

“The nineteenth century canal sleeper service between the cities took thirteen hours. [3] But canal boats in the nineteenth century were horse-drawn so imagine how much quicker they could go today with modern engines. And for a greener alternative, the boats could use hydrogen fuel cells or perhaps even be solar-powered.

“We’ve no doubt that the Scottish Ministers can make all of this happen before the Winchburgh Tunnel engineering works commence on 13 June. In fact, to help out rail travellers, and in a modern take on the Dunkirk Spirit, we’d like to see transport minister Derek Mackay and infrastructure cabinet secretary Keith Brown commit to taking shifts steering this new generation of fast canal sleepers between our cities. And perhaps the Scottish Cabinet could also convene one of its summer cabinet meetings on a canal boat?”



[1] Transform Scotland

Transform Scotland is the national sustainable transport alliance, bringing together rail, bus and shipping operators, local authorities, national environment and conservation groups, businesses and local transport groups – see <> for details.

[2] Network Rail (18/03/15) ‘Passengers advised of Edinburgh-Glasgow summer electrification works’:


[3] Canal sleeper from Edinburgh-Glasgow

Hamish Brown’s ‘Exploring the Edinburgh to Glasgow Canals’ (HMSO 1997) reports:

“In their heyday, the lack of locks on the Union Canal allowed travellers a speedy crossing between the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. The once-thriving service took as little as 13 hours, and cost the equivalent of 7.5 pence. … in 1834 no fewer than 121,407 passengers travelled the canal. Meals, music, even gaming tables were provided to pass the time, and there was a nightly sleeper service which was popular with both businessmen and honeymoon couples.”

We would note that even today people are prepared to travel thirteen hours on a sleeper — as this is about the same time as a Fort William to London sleeper takes on a Sunday night nowadays: <>.