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This type of train ticket gets their own page on this thing because they have a bit of history worth knowing in regards to their binary gender requirements and also I have had some interesting conversations with staff that is worth repeating in regards to the future of this requirement.

Past to Present

At the moment, you are required to specify a binary gender when booking tickets for the Caledonian Sleeper or the Night Riviera. The Caledonian Sleeper are fully transparent about their reasoning for this, and I will repeat what they say below (taken from their website on 26th November 2017):

We ask this at the beginning of the booking process as it may be relevant if you decide to travel in our Standard Class or Seated accommodation.

In our Standard shared occupancy rooms, unless both beds in the room are booked by you or your party, you may have to share with another guest. If this happens, we will make sure you only have to share with an adult of the same sex.

Also, if you are travelling alone in our seated coach, we try to group guests by sex. If you ask us, we will always do our best to make sure that you do not sit next to someone of the opposite sex.

Our First Class rooms are recommended if you prefer to guarantee your privacy.

The previous website by First Scotrail did not make this clear from the outset. The new website run by Serco Caledonian Sleeper has a link with more info from the moment the request for a binary gender appears. It's an improvement, and it's a measure some would argue is still reasonable to ask of people when it comes to safety on a train while completely vulnerable (i.e. asleep).

The Future of Caledonian Sleeper

So, a few years back, there was an announcement that the new Scotrail franchise would no longer include the sleeper services, and the Caledonian Sleeper would become a stand-alone franchise. The idea behind this is that a company that's specifically to run these services should be more interested in getting it up-to-date, while tacking it onto another franchise makes it more of an afterthought. In 2015, Serco won the franchise and created Serco Caledonian Sleepers.

As part of the new franchise, there's going to be new trains, various investments in stations, websites, you name it. Maybe even new routes! As the new train designs started getting underway, it was my turn to drop them a line to discuss the future of the binary gender requirements. I got a great response back! Here it is, completely unedited:

Dear Mx Shillito,

Thank you for your enquiry. With regards to booking on-board, although the site does request a gender we are more than happy for our guests to select the gender they associate with. We understand that some of our non-binary / third gender guests may not feel comfortable choosing one specific gender on booking and in such instances we would urge them to call us so that we may assist.

This, of course, isn't just limited to gender issues, we have many guests contact us with various requirements and we will do whatever we can to accommodate any request. The National Reservation System that our own booking systems link to is a little clunky to say the least!

On speaking with the New Trains Team, I've been advised that it is planned to no longer offer our guests shared berths with other guests not known to them and that gender designation of shared facilities will no longer exist.

We will certainly continue to pass on feedback from all our guests to the New Trains Team, Marketing Department and Guest Experience Management Team and have passed on similar feedback from members of the LGBTQ in recent weeks.

It sounds like they're required to ask for a binary gender perhaps as part of National Rail's systems, but they can override them manually if you contact them directly. They're not super keen on the "clunky" reservation system that requires this too, by the sound of it.

The big one here is that shared rooms (or "berths") will be a thing of the past with their new trains, which means privacy and, in theory, no requirements for asking for gender any more. I'm not sure if grouping seated passengers by gender will still be a thing though, but I guess we'll see when the new trains are in.

It sounds like the new owners of Caledonian Sleeper are on the right track (haha) for making their service much more inclusive, but I am wary of any ancient National Rail conditions that say they still need to ask. I'm not sure, but we'll see.

The new trains start to arrive in 2018. I won't expect changes to their website in this respect until all services are using the new trains. However...

The Future Future

There's talk of new sleeper services getting introduced with the trains they're currently using once they become redundant. If these retain the shared berths they currently have, the requirement for a binary gender may remain. However, Serco seem pretty keen on removing shared rooms from their fleet of trains, so I am expecting these older trains to be altered to remove those as an option. I could be wrong though, I'm just speculating.

Night Riviera

New trains on the way, but I've not had any official confirmation of removal of shared berths. However, their booking website (through GWR's) automatically hides/shows the gender options depending on the type of sleeper seat/room you choose, so this is a bit better than Caledonian Sleeper's which asks every time regardless of booking type.

Conclude it all/I'm too lazy to read all that

Old Caledonian Sleeper owner required gender to avoid mixed shared rooms with strangers. New Caledonian Sleeper franchise owner wants to not have shared rooms in their new trains and, along with it, the requirement for a binary gender when buying tickets.


Update: 9th April 2018

So a couple of things. The new trains for Caledonian Sleeper will start being used from late October. However, this is just on the lowland (London->Glasgow/Edinburgh) service. Seems the requirement for a binary gender will remain for as long as the old trains are in-use (where the old trains you book per-bunk and the new trains book per-room). I have been advised by a director of Caledonian Sleeper that guests can choose whichever gender they identify as in the meantime, or to pick randomly if that's not applicable. Unfortunately, both the old and new train booking engines require mandatory titles currently. The director was under the impression that titles were optional, but I advised them that this was not the case, so this will hopefully be fixed soon. I'll keep you informed.

Update: 1st August 2018

I have contacted Caledonian Sleeper again today to ask why the title is still mandatory (and gendered, save for 'Dr') on their new booking system. They've passed it to management.

Update: 30th April 2019

Caledonian Sleeper still have title as mandatory (and gendered, save for 'Dr') on their booking system. I contacted and they responded as follows:

[...]please accept my assurance that this is an area that we are addressing and soon there will the Mx option available. At this time, I can not give you a definitive date, but please accept my assurances that it will be added in the near future.

I will continue monitoring their website and will get back to them in a couple of months to either chase or thank.


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