• Our booking engine at tickets.railforums.co.uk (powered by TrainSplit) helps support the running of the forum with every ticket purchase! Find out more and ask any questions/give us feedback in this thread!

Anyone else here interested in the evolution of rail corporate identities?

Status
Not open for further replies.

backontrack

Established Member
Joined
2 Feb 2014
Messages
6,383
Location
The UK
A key microeconomic principle is this: in a monopolistically competitive market, firms will seek to differentiate their products from rivals' in order to achieve their economic objectives. One example of this is branding. The creation of a distinct corporate identity can be a great asset to a firm; it creates brand recognition, and that's nearly always better than being faceless or identikit.

Now, I'd contest the assertion that the Conservatives actually created monopolistic competition, as was John Major's intention (apparently), when British Rail was nationalised; however, the principles are the same. 1997 saw a proliferation of new companies on our rails, each with its own new face. 23 years later, nearly all of those firms have gone (with Chiltern, and what was once First Great Western, clinging grimly on); in their stead are new names like Avanti, with their own new methods and typefaces.

A livery isn't just a pretty colour scheme for trainspotters; while nostalgia is often a part of the overall picture (case in point: the 'retro' aesthetics popularised by GNER and, latterly, GWR and EMR), it's also about looking professional. Assured. To put it another way: every product has its packaging, and this becomes especially important when there are rivals to distinguish it from.

You can probably discern from my tone in some places that I'm not overly enthusiastic about the capitalisation of the railways, especially since those who know me on this forum also have an idea of my opposition towards privatisation. (Let's not go there.) Yes, backontrack hates capitalism - he's not a communist, but he's thoroughly sick of capitalism and climate destruction, and we all know it. So in that case...why is he blathering on about the importance of corporate identity? Surely he hates that, right? Is he just nostalgic for his early childhood in the comparatively happy-clappy 2000s, where flashy branding could sometimes seem novel to young eyes, rather than a target for cynicism and the subsequent rolling of said youthful eyes?

The answer is that I just can't help but be drawn in. It's all about image, and working out what appeals best to consumers - and that changes with the decades.

Yes, GNER are fondly remembered by enthusiasts because of their nostalgia-evoking crestplates, and acronymic name, and the fact that they operated through those great railway cathedrals of York and Darlington, while connecting two national capitals. However, the TOC have also made a larger imprint on the social conscience than most, (source: my dad remembers them), and that isn't purely due to their longevity; it's also because of their corporate identity.

Futura. It's absolutely timeless. GNER contrasted super-bold and ultra-light variants of the typeface in their logo, which they overlaid in gold over their dark blue trains. Their colour palette was simple, yet effective; the navy blue was a bit like a blue suit at a business meeting, confident and assured. The scarlet stripe that down the length of the trains was the cherry on top; creating a memorable combination of colours, implying motion and efficiency through its horizontal orientation; a burst of energetic almost-orange that perfectly contrasted the smart and buttoned-down navy. They stuck to primary colours, which really worked for them. The wider GNER corporate identity is the only 1997 one that hasn't dated - ironic considering how retro its trappings are - and you can still see its influence on our rails today.

So the GNER theme has maintained its appeal. There are stablemates, however, which already look dated. The original ScotRail looks a bit garish and late-nineties, Silverlink even more so, even down to the typeface used. Northern Rail, meanwhile, had a messy corporate identity, with several different liveries at once, while the paper timetables changed colour with every summer or winter update. The dominant hue associated with the firm was a felt-tip purple, which its ill-conceived successors have maintained - along with the company's poor reputation. Perhaps a radical rebranding is in order, if a future franchisee can ever unpoison the chalice.

There have been wider trends and evolutions. Liveries tend to be less swishy now, and more subdued. Shiny, gradiented liveries, like Dynamic Lines and Barbie, have fallen to the wayside in favour of flatter ones - there's an obvious parallel here, as Apple was ditching Skeumorphism in favour of flat app icons at the same time. On our railways, this flattening has ultimately led to the adoption of more retro, simplistic identities. It's all part of a complex puzzle.

So is anyone else interested in that puzzle, too? The fonts and typefaces, the visual trends, the attempts to impress a cohesive image upon the passenger - it's all nerdy, but it interests me, in some way.
 
Last edited:
Sponsor Post - registered members do not see these adverts; click here to register, or click here to log in
R

RailUK Forums

Alex27

Member
Joined
11 Mar 2020
Messages
142
Location
Oxford
I'm interested! Design is certainly something I find very interesting, especially when combined with the railway:)
 

talltim

Established Member
Joined
17 Jan 2010
Messages
2,454
Me too. I did my dissertation on the BR corporate identity (in retrospect i don’t think it was very good but it got me a good mark).
I have to say that most of the UK post privatisation identities have been a bit poor. There are some strong schemes on the continent that don’t rely on being retro, thinking RailJet especially
 

najaB

Veteran Member
Joined
28 Aug 2011
Messages
30,974
Location
Scotland
I think GNER did a good job of building a brand identity - so much so that one of my friends recently referred to Scotrail getting "GNER-type" trains rather than HSTs.
 

hexagon789

Veteran Member
Joined
2 Sep 2016
Messages
15,870
Location
Glasgow
A key microeconomic principle is this: in a monopolistically competitive market, firms will seek to differentiate their products from rivals' in order to achieve their economic objectives. One example of this is branding. The creation of a distinct corporate identity can be a great asset to a firm; it creates brand recognition, and that's nearly always better than being faceless or identikit.

Now, I'd contest the assertion that the Conservatives actually created monopolistic competition, as was John Major's intention (apparently), when British Rail was nationalised; however, the principles are the same. 1997 saw a proliferation of new companies on our rails, each with its own new face. 23 years later, nearly all of those firms have gone (with Chiltern, and what was once First Great Western, clinging grimly on); in their stead are new names like Avanti, with their own new methods and typefaces.

A livery isn't just a pretty colour scheme for trainspotters; while nostalgia is often a part of the overall picture (case in point: the 'retro' aesthetics popularised by GNER and, latterly, GWR and EMR), it's also about looking professional. Assured. To put it another way: every product has its packaging, and this becomes especially important when there are rivals to distinguish it from.

You can probably discern from my tone in some places that I'm not overly enthusiastic about the capitalisation of the railways, especially since those who know me on this forum also have an idea of my opposition towards privatisation. (Let's not go there.) Yes, backontrack hates capitalism - he's not a communist, but he's thoroughly sick of capitalism and climate destruction, and we all know it. So in that case...why is he blathering on about the importance of corporate identity? Surely he hates that, right? Is he just nostalgic for his early childhood in the comparatively happy-clappy 2000s, where flashy branding could sometimes seem novel to young eyes, rather than a target for cynicism and the subsequent rolling of said youthful eyes?

The answer is that I just can't help but be drawn in. It's all about image, and working out what appeals best to consumers - and that changes with the decades.

Yes, GNER are fondly remembered by enthusiasts because of their nostalgia-evoking crestplates, and acronymic name, and the fact that they operated through those great railway cathedrals of York and Darlington, while connecting two national capitals. However, the TOC have also made a larger imprint on the social conscience than most, (source: my dad remembers them), and that isn't purely due to their longevity; it's also because of their corporate identity.

Futura. It's absolutely timeless. GNER contrasted super-bold and ultra-light variants of the typeface in their logo, which they overlaid in gold over their dark blue trains. Their colour palette was simple, yet effective; the navy blue was a bit like a blue suit at a business meeting, confident and assured. The scarlet stripe that down the length of the trains was the cherry on top; creating a memorable combination of colours, implying motion and efficiency through its horizontal orientation; a burst of energetic almost-orange that perfectly contrasted the smart and buttoned-down navy. They stuck to primary colours, which really worked for them. The wider GNER corporate identity is the only 1997 one that hasn't dated - ironic considering how retro its trappings are - and you can still see its influence on our rails today.

So the GNER theme has maintained its appeal. There are stablemates, however, which already look dated. The original ScotRail looks a bit garish and late-nineties, Silverlink even more so, even down to the typeface used. Northern Rail, meanwhile, had a messy corporate identity, with several different liveries at once, while the paper timetables changed colour with every summer or winter update. The dominant hue associated with the firm was a felt-tip purple, which its ill-conceived successors have maintained - along with the company's poor reputation. Perhaps a radical rebranding is in order, if a future franchisee can ever unpoison the chalice.

There have been wider trends and evolutions. Liveries tend to be less swishy now, and more subdued. Shiny, gradiented liveries, like Dynamic Lines and Barbie, have fallen to the wayside in favour of flatter ones - there's an obvious parallel here, as Apple was ditching Skeumorphism in favour of flat app icons at the same time. On our railways, this flattening has ultimately led to the adoption of more retro, simplistic identities. It's all part of a complex puzzle.

So is anyone else interested in that puzzle, too? The fonts and typefaces, the visual trends, the attempts to impress a cohesive image upon the passenger - it's all nerdy, but it interests me, in some way.


It interests myself as well, though I'm interested in train design in general.

In the UK Sectorisation or early privatisation seemed to have the best liveries, but if we look at various state railway companies some of the best schemes imho are now.

And yes, GNER remains probably one of my favourite privatisation schemes, but I also like InterCity Sector and even BR blue/grey!

CIÉ/IR/IÉ (Irish Rail) has an interesting livery progression, 4 liveries (really three but there was a colour change which could qualify it as four) in a row were effectively just variations of the previous scheme.

Black 'n' Tan of the 1960s/early 1970s became Supertrain which was little different on coaching stock already in service but was quite different on locos. Then Irish Rail 'Tippex' (introduced 1987) which added white stripes and a new logo. Then the orange changed shade in the mid-1990s to the much brighter colour seen until 2008/2009 on the Mk2D and Mk3 coaches.

France has another interesting livery progression though they tended to be quite different to the previous scheme with no visible progression as a variation to my mind at least on looking at Corail and TGV stock, they all seem very distinctive from each other.
 

StephenHunter

Established Member
Joined
22 Jul 2017
Messages
2,168
Location
London
NS's decision to go for yellow was a brave move at a time when European trains were a sea of red, green or blue.
 

tbtc

Veteran Member
Joined
16 Dec 2008
Messages
17,882
Location
Reston City Centre
I find it genuinely interesting, it's a very complicated subject, sometimes a simple livery is "drab", sometimes it's "understated", people can get very emotional about it even though there's sometimes only a minor difference between two schemes.

GNER's success seems to be something that we can all agree on - I wasn't a big fan of the TOC itself (ignoring local TOCs by setting up joint ventures with bus companies instead of advertising connections... poaching staff and contributing to the driver shortage at Northern Spirit... ) but the branding was great - no coincidence that Grand Central have taken the same approach to their trains, maybe hoping that people see it as a successor company? I think the OP makes a good point about a "suit" - the GNER livery was like a conservative (blue) jacket with an eye catching (red) tie.

Legislation on contrasting doors has spoiled a number of liveries of their simplicity, so it's a bit harder to judge modern ones against the BR ones/ early privatisation (some "historic" liveries would have been spoiled by the complication of different coloured doors - it certainly made later day GNER sets look too bright - the horizontal "tomato" stripe worked well as contrast but not when splashed on every door IMHO).

Whilst I'm agnostic about many parts of BR, they did do branding rather well (much better at branding than running trains!) - their design guidelines still stand up well today - they understood that a train is a complicated thing to try to superimpose a livery on, so tried to work *with* the limitations - e.g. a horizontal black around the windows on InterCity trains - using the blue "Z" on an HST power car to hide the ugly grilles that'd have looked terrible if painted white - adding just a splash of colour to differentiate ScotRail from InterCity - all very carefully planned.

In contrast, some modern designs seem to work well on a blank sheet of paper but are rather spoiled by applying them to actual trains - intricate swoops/ diagonals are ruined by bulky windows - some patterns make a train look asymmetric or only work well when it travels in one direction - I think `BR liveries were much simpler and generally worked better.

Also interesting to see the trends and fluctuations - it feels like many TOCs heading in one direction (Anglia/ TfW/ XC all going for something similar to the Virgin Trains approach of white/grey/silver with bright red as a contrast) but then you get something garish like WMT which looks more like a rehash of the kind of vulgar liveries we had in the days of WAGN etc. Mind you, on the subject of Virgin, it's worth repeating that they really didn't have much branding on their trains - a big log at each end but the rest of the train just "looked" Virgin without plastering the name everywhere - a good example of "show, don't tell" that students should look at to see how sometimes a brand just installs its mark without the need to put logos all over the place.

I hope this thread continues for some time as it'd be interesting to see what other people thing worked/ didn't (I've tried to keep a distinction between corporate identities and what I thought of the actual TOC - e.g. Midland Mainline ran a great service on the MML but the colour scheme looked terrible on an HST IMHO (too many weak colours, needing some kind of darker/stronger contrast - like the wishy washy livery Stagecoach are now putting on their buses )
 

Senex

Established Member
Joined
1 Apr 2014
Messages
2,756
Location
York
Certainly forme the only post-privatisation livery that sticks in my mind is the GNER one, as part of the whole corporate image of carefully-thought-out designs and colours, on board as well as externally. Unlike some others, I really did like travelling by GNER, even down to patronising the excellent restaurant cars (in the days when you could still mark your seat by leaving a case whilst you headed off to the RC for a meal).

The question I'd like to ask is what a corporate image is designed to do. Is it just to be a collection of rather garish colours that will stick in the memory for a short time? Is it just to be colours and designs that are very much the fashion of the moment to shew that an operator is "with it"? Or is the image designed to be suggestive — of modernity, of reliability, of trendiness, whatever? People here have likened the GNER dark blue with its red band to a business suit with a slightly daring tie. Was the whole scheme, complete with the rather retro crest and all the internal stuff, thought out not just to provide memorable colours but also to give an immediate suggestion to the viewer, whether potential or actual traveller, of solidity, reliability, quality, etc, and to tie in with a long tradition ("The route of the Fying Scotsman") rather than suggest that modernity involved a clean break with the past? I think that that GNER corporate identity worked both in visual terms and in suggestive terms—and was, perhaps, the only one of the TOC liveries that has done. (I also find the comaprison with the DB Inter-City livery interesting, which is one I alsofind successful and like very much. That too relies on the red stripe, but in its case on a white background rather than a dark blue one. Is part of the appeal of both their very simplicity?)
 

najaB

Veteran Member
Joined
28 Aug 2011
Messages
30,974
Location
Scotland
Is part of the appeal of both their very simplicity?
Simplicity and a distinct colour scheme go a long way to building an impactful and memorable brand identity. For example, what brand is this (it's not a TOC and the font is close to but not the actual one used):

1603452182591.png
 
Last edited:

A Challenge

Established Member
Joined
24 Sep 2016
Messages
2,823
Simplicity and a distinct colour scheme go a long way to building an impactful and memorable brand identity. For example, what brand is this (it's not a TOC and the font is close to but not the actual one used):

View attachment 84960
That one is particularly obvious and recognisable (and very nice).

On topic though, I think branding in rail is dead, with the requirement for franchise constant brands being brought in with all these dull liveries.
 

SteveM70

Established Member
Joined
11 Jul 2018
Messages
3,959
It’s a subject I’m very interested in, and I’ve learned a lot about the complexities of it (not specifically to trains) as a friend of mine designs corporate typefaces for a living.

As per some other comments the GNER livery both looked good, and I think also fitted their brand and could easily be applied more widely in their organisation (eg the orange band and “route of the flying Scotsman” would look good as a footer on corporate letters).

I do like the GWR livery too, albeit perhaps as much from nostalgia as anything. But the raised cast lettering is a lovely touch.

The latest iteration of the Scotrail livery is good with the stylised Saltire on it, and the theme is applied widely (seats etc) successfully

With all of these, less is clearly more. Some of the others just seem to be all about “looking different” with no coherent theme or message
 

backontrack

Established Member
Joined
2 Feb 2014
Messages
6,383
Location
The UK
GNER's success seems to be something that we can all agree on - I wasn't a big fan of the TOC itself (ignoring local TOCs by setting up joint ventures with bus companies instead of advertising connections... poaching staff and contributing to the driver shortage at Northern Spirit... ) but the branding was great - no coincidence that Grand Central have taken the same approach to their trains, maybe hoping that people see it as a successor company? I think the OP makes a good point about a "suit" - the GNER livery was like a conservative (blue) jacket with an eye catching (red) tie.
Cheers :) and yes I agree RE Grand Central. I think it's true to say that you can see GNER's visual DNA in Grand Central's identity - in fact it's something I meant to mention in my post, but alas it slipped my mind.

Whilst I'm agnostic about many parts of BR, they did do branding rather well (much better at branding than running trains!) - their design guidelines still stand up well today - they understood that a train is a complicated thing to try to superimpose a livery on, so tried to work *with* the limitations - e.g. a horizontal black around the windows on InterCity trains - using the blue "Z" on an HST power car to hide the ugly grilles that'd have looked terrible if painted white - adding just a splash of colour to differentiate ScotRail from InterCity - all very carefully planned.
That design handbook hasn't aged at all. They built a really solid corporate face.

I think branding in rail is dead, with the requirement for franchise constant brands being brought in with all these dull liveries.
I agree, and think it's a real shame, too. I think it's possible that someone could go through all the iterations of Northern we've had since Northern Spirit and honestly think they were the same entity - which tarnishes the existing operator, and so too future ones if they're forced to use the same colour scheme of white/indigo/purple. Likewise, in the southeast it's all so homogenous...Southeastern are blue these days, but the GTR brands are all largely white with coloured doors, and so is Greater Anglia, and now Transport for Wales likewise; and it's a shame.

It’s a subject I’m very interested in, and I’ve learned a lot about the complexities of it (not specifically to trains) as a friend of mine designs corporate typefaces for a living.

As per some other comments the GNER livery both looked good, and I think also fitted their brand and could easily be applied more widely in their organisation (eg the orange band and “route of the flying Scotsman” would look good as a footer on corporate letters).

I do like the GWR livery too, albeit perhaps as much from nostalgia as anything. But the raised cast lettering is a lovely touch.

The latest iteration of the Scotrail livery is good with the stylised Saltire on it, and the theme is applied widely (seats etc) successfully

With all of these, less is clearly more. Some of the others just seem to be all about “looking different” with no coherent theme or message
I agree with every word here. The Flying Scotsman association is a salient one - it's certainly a flagship brand, and tying your operation to the past is an ideal way of creating a sense of experience and establishment, whether real or artificial.

GWR and ScotRail are great examples; clear-cut, and simplistic while also being distinctive, yet not garish. They really do stand out in a good way.
 

HarryL

Member
Joined
14 Sep 2020
Messages
243
Location
Leeds
I think the British Rail design manual has stood the test of time, the only dated identities are the latter InterCity branding and some parts of Regional Railways, the rest could easily be brought back without many eyebrows being raised.

GNER was a good design and was some fresh (or nostalgic) air when it launched but I feel it's fallen into the same category as InterCity in that it hasn't stood up to time and would have got into the same issues as the original British Railways branding got into and need to be refreshed at some point if it was still around, you can only hold onto nostalgia and history for so long before your reputation catches up with you.

I believe when the idea of privatisation was originally brought up, it was actually intended to be privatised more-or-less along the lines of the big four but sharing the same unified sector branding as British Rail did, obviously was never going to work that way in reality as nobody attempted to regulate that branding. The all white trains with vinyl bits is starting to rectify that branding void though and with franchises being dead hopefully more permanent brands get established and enforced.
 
Last edited:

tbtc

Veteran Member
Joined
16 Dec 2008
Messages
17,882
Location
Reston City Centre
I'll happily admit to having a few gaps in my knowledge in the late nineties, early noughties (certainly couldn't afford many magazines, didn't have the same internet resources that we now get), but I do remember Sea Containers (the people behind GNER) bidding for the SWT franchise (as a reaction to the Stagecoach share of Virgin's ambitious plans for the ECML franchise?)...

...but I can't remember what the plans for it were - in my head there's a memory of an artist's impression of a train in something similar to GNER but with a vivid lime green instead of the tomato soup livery they used on the ECML?

Maybe if Sea Containers had been successful, the luxury brand of GNER would have been tainted a little by association with an "everyday" commuter operation?

Interesting to compare the different approaches of GNER and Virgin on the two main lines from London to Glasgow - one going for faux nostalgia, one going for a "futuristic" silver image.

I suppose that this is one problem with rail branding - do you want your company to look modern or do you accept that most of the favourable memories that people have of trains are associated with the steam era (or fiction like Thomas The Tank Engine etc), so you have to decide between a contemporary style or something that at least looks fairly "traditional" - I think that the EMR brand looks quite good in that respect - the purple is a fairly bright modern colour but an ordinary member of the public could mistake it for the livery one hundred years ago and attach some kind of (false) nostalgia to it - seems quite a clever approach to me, a tricky balancing act.

I know that the ScotRail livery is popular on here but I'm not a huge fan, too dark IMHO - but at least it's one of thew few liveries that is designed for the shape of a train - there's nothing fussy/complicated, there are no diagonals or swooshes that are "lost" due to the big black windows.

The question I'd like to ask is what a corporate image is designed to do. Is it just to be a collection of rather garish colours that will stick in the memory for a short time? Is it just to be colours and designs that are very much the fashion of the moment to shew that an operator is "with it"? Or is the image designed to be suggestive — of modernity, of reliability, of trendiness, whatever?

Good question.

The corporate image of BR was one of the first that I was ever aware of - forty years ago, companies didn't have social media accounts telling us about their "core values", maybe an "ethos" condensed into just two or three aspirational words (maybe with deliberately imperfect grammar?) with some corporate guff about how they are "redefining traditions" or were "formed to reflect a shared passion for the paperclip industry" or what-not.

in comparison, buses at the time just... existed... bus liveries were generally one colour, nothing flash.

I suppose that one reason for a corporate image on the railway is to encourage further journeys, make train travel something desirable/ upmarket, highlight the benefits of a network of services - showing the entire UK rail map at stations may be a bit bewildering, but if we show a simple diagram of a few lines that our TOC operate then it might be digestible, point out a few other services that the same operator provides - e.g. you "use us for your regular commute into (insert big city here) but did you know that we also have services to (insert leisure destination here)?"

One problem that train travel has in the UK is that it's often a "necessity" rather than a choice - people take the train to a city centre because inner city traffic is bad and parking is a nightmare/expensive - people commute because they have to (can't afford to live near where they work, can't get any decent jobs near where they live) - so how can we encourage discretionary travel, how can we get them to use the train when it's not essential? How can we encourage people to take the train in the opposite direction (e.g. instead of from where you live to the big city, how about taking the train from the other platform, towards the countryside/coast?

It's a bit like the thing at the bottom of some shopping websites - "passengers who enjoyed the weekday 07:53 to New Street also enjoyed the 10:18 to Aberystwyth" (in the way that Amazon seem keen to tell me that people who bought the exercise bike I own apparently also bought three or four other exercise bikes too!).

One issue with rail branding that I'm never certain about is what to do with your "basic" services. For example, some supermarkets have a deliberately downmarket branding on the cheapest own-label stuff - you keep your Basics/ Value/ Smart-Price labels as rubbish as possible to try to shame people into trading up to something a bit fancier (and more profitable!). Some supermarkets don't do this - Iceland/ Aldi/ Lidl are fairly cheap places but don't have any stigma attached to the labels of their cheapest foods. So, if you want to run a nationalised railway with fancy branding for your flagship routes (e.g. InterCity) then what do you do about the remainder? Branding like Northern/ Valley Lines/ Regional Railways could be seen as fairly downmarket, since it's for the Sprinters/Pacers etc (in fact, I might argue that BR shouldn't have given the 142/143/144s a "name", since it made the cheap/nasty trains something that entered the public consciousness - might have been better not to draw attention to them?).
 

backontrack

Established Member
Joined
2 Feb 2014
Messages
6,383
Location
The UK
So, if you want to run a nationalised railway with fancy branding for your flagship routes (e.g. InterCity) then what do you do about the remainder? Branding like Northern/ Valley Lines/ Regional Railways could be seen as fairly downmarket, since it's for the Sprinters/Pacers etc (in fact, I might argue that BR shouldn't have given the 142/143/144s a "name", since it made the cheap/nasty trains something that entered the public consciousness - might have been better not to draw attention to them?).
Ah, but there are parts of the Northern network that are strongly leisure-oriented. To get the best out of what you have, you can't go treating the Settle & Carlisle and the Pontefract Line the same way. A distinction is necessary. And I think I've stated beforehand that I believe that the current branding around Northern leaves something to be desired in terms of trying to win over passengers, though it's also the franchise that's historically been given the muckiest trains. (Back in the no-growth Serco days, what more could have been done?)

I think it might well prove to be a shame that the WYMetro separate branding has been phased out - it was a clear-cut and simplistic way of separating the Leeds/Bradford/Wakefield commuter services out from the longer-distance routes without making it all just homogenously 'Northern'. That Northern brand has been irredeemably tarnished, I think, in the eyes of passengers - so it's one of those rare instances where a fragmented/even slightly muddled corporate identity (with multiple liveries/packages) actually works better than a single umbrella image.

Conversely, I think ScotRail have done a good job so far of differentiating their 'scenic' routes from their commuter ones while maintaining a single image. Co-opting the Saltire was a great decision for them: it ties in a vast array of services under a single national banner, as if to say "This is all Scotland". Then they can produce their 'Scotland's Scenic Railways' leaflets and roll out their refurbished Sprinters.

I think a good exercise in this respect is to consider a) The Far North Line and b) The Esk Valley Line, and ask yourself: relative to each TOC, which service feels like it's the outpost? The out-on-the-fringes, low-frequency service?

There are many reasons behind my answer, which is the Esk Valley Line; it's part of a bigger network, and doesn't serve a ferry link, nor does it run into a city. But at the same time, I think it's demonstrative of the gulf between these two post-Regional Railways TOCs. ScotRail presents a network that is a whole; where the lines are part of something bigger. The Far North Line feels like part of that network. It still feels like it fulfils a purpose; and it does, as usage has stablilised and was gradually climbing pre-coronavirus. It's been marketed as being part of a network. (And I do still feel there's potential there too - worthwhile potential - in exploiting the burgeoning North Coast 500 in order to boost the rail service.)

As a whole, ScotRail market their 'scenic' routes well. It's handy that they have a geographical distinction between the Highlands and the Lowlands, plus a wider national image to draw from. However...Northern could still do better with their fringe services simply by developing an outlook that suggested that they're not ashamed to serve the areas that they
do; especially now that they've got rid of the Basics stock and have proper, Taste the Difference trains built by CAF on some routes. There's Burnhamesque Northern pride to tap into (and I think TPExpress do decently at this). Never mind 'seven cities', go with ten - Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Bradford, Leeds, York, Hull, Sunderland, Newcastle, Carlisle - and centre the network around them. Giving the illusion of confidence makes your operation seem more attractive. You might be able to attract a couple more passengers onto the Whitby train if you can make them seem like maybe the train is a decent option. Maybe even do a couple of TV ads where you get Tony Walsh to write a poem about Northern Rail and read it out while showing footage of a sunset over the Blackpool Tower or something.

Northern Connect is weird to me, I think. It's a bit like Stagecoach Gold on the buses, but with less visual evidence that it's a 'premium' or 'improved' operation. It creates an offshoot of Northern without that offshoot having a strong identity behind it; it just has the aroma of fudged Northern Powerhouse Osbornisms and corporate fragmentation without a real purpose or intention behind it. Unlike WYMetro, it's uneffective as a means of separating the operation from the established Northern public image, because...it still includes that Northern public image, just with 'Connect' added in and a slightly spanglier livery.

Northern operate trains over a vast, proud and characterful region of England without seeming all that cohesive and compelling, precisely because they've always gone for the own-brand, budget feel rather than make themselves out to be better than they are - which, cynically, is the reason why you develop a recognisable image. They've never really gone for Northern pride or a Northern feel, it's just been a name. And I think that's a bit of a shame, really.
 

Devonian

Member
Joined
10 Sep 2019
Messages
197
Location
Totnes
An interesting subject indeed. GNER is a really interesting case, because they effectively had a dual identity that gave them significant flexibility: the GNER logotype, Futura lettering and simple livery were neutral enough to be timeless; then the "Route of the Flying Scotsman" tagline on the trains and seriously old-fashioned garter crest added a layer of railway tradition that took it beyond a generic corporate look whenever they needed to add a touch of class.

Being from the other end of the country, I have watched the revival of Great Western since 1997 with great interest. Apologies for the long waffle... but it's full of twists and turns with glimpses of the struggles between railway and bus company, modernity and tradition, and good taste with corporate identity.

The first iteration, before First, set the tone for the 'railway' side of the equation: bringing back regional pride with one of the Great Names from before nationalisation, albeit with a lot of continuity from British Rail's rather successful Intercity operation. Heritage name? Great Western - tick! Speedy italic serif text? Swap Intercity's typeface with Bembo Italic - tick! Stylised bird logo? Swap swallow with swirly 'Merlin' - tick! Unashamed retention of bits of British Rail? Railway Alphabet signage, Intercity logotype and Pullman - tick, tick, tick! The livery was a clever adaptation of Intercity Swallow into a green that harked back to the GWR's locomotives, with an ivory nod to GWR cream. It was understated, clean and both new and reassuring.

Then in came First, who brought with them some distinctly interesting ideas about branding. For starters, what was the company actually called? While it was "First Great Western" in text, Great Western and First were never seen together on the livery: the Merlin was replaced with the First logotype on the locomotives and 'flying f' on the carriage centres, but Great Western lettering appeared separately at the ends of the carriages. The lettering and logo soon drifted apart on printed materials too. There were tiny hints that the rebranding was done in haste: the First logo on the brand new website had the filename 'merlin.gif', for example. Since First had not yet adopted a corporate livery of its own, Great Western's was swiftly modified instead: out went Bembo, in came the eternally bland Helvetica Condensed. The green lived on, but with the addition of a dull gold-ish colour on the trains and bright yellow in print, with a crude stripe-gradient-effect stuck on for good measure. It wasn't very coherent, and it certainly wasn't as elegant as their initial livery. And, as First's bus division began to unveil a very different look, it was also short lived.

Away from the trains, First had already butchered the liveries of bus companies up and down the country, keeping local colours but simplifying liveries into plain blocks of colour, Helvetica Condensed lettering and the occasional straight stripe, in a way that suggested corporate control without corporate coherence. The unveiling of their 'Barbie' bus livery in striking new First colours of white, magenta pink, white, purple and more white, with turquoise thrown in for interiors, created a bold unifying look for the buses and a bold look for the company. Would they try to bring the buses and railways together? Well... sort of. They clearly decided that all that white wasn't a good colour for trains (although if they had used white, they would have been years ahead of the trend) so unveiled a very different version of their livery on the Adelantes: lots of purple, with white doors and stripes in pink and gold.

Gold? That's not a First colour is it? It seemed that the railways were going to keep a somewhat distinctive look one way or another.

It was all... striking. As a statement of First Group's ownership of Great Western, it was certainly effective. But it didn't say much about the company as a railway operator. The colours didn't ooze elegance or style. The livery, with its multiple stripes tailing off into gradients, was neither up to date, futuristic nor classic, merely gaudy. It didn't even fit the trains very well: rolling out the livery to the HSTs famously went rather badly, and resulted in multiple different versions of the nose styling before they settled on a final design. The website and timetables were plain and unimaginative. And the changes were often only skin deep: Network Rail disliked pink, purple and white paint on the stations so much that they kept painting the stations - or parts of the stations - that they had responsibility for in green and cream, leading to a really incoherent look (Exeter's footbridge and platforms didn't match, for example). While some trains got First Group standard interiors to match the buses (including Pacers, which had bus seats anyway), others had First elements, such as purple carpets and turquoise washbasins, added to Great Western interiors in piecemeal fashion. Despite being driven by corporate design, it didn't project a look of a confident rail operator, or of a unified company.

Next came a couple of false starts and diversions. The Great Western, Thames Trains and Wessex Trains franchises merged over the course of a few years. A temporary brand of First Great Western Link was applied to Thames, with a rather clever adaptation of their existing livery to change the circles round the doors into First 'swooshes', but a weak logotype incorporating a half faded First logo and some random wavy lines that looked like Word Art. But what would a united franchise hold?

We got a glimpse of an alternate future with prototype carriages on public display in 2005, which revealed a first stab at Dynamic Lines. Here were the wavy neon lines along the carriage, but simpler, and running right to the ends. Here were a blue-purple gradient down the carriage and darker 'rubine' pink doors. Both were due to be adopted in modified form. But everything else was... slightly odd. There was clearly a battle going on between the First corporate look and a distinctive Great Western identity. Outside the carriages the Great Western name was gone altogether, replaced with just the First logo. Inside were the blue walls that were to become familiar: but soft furnishings were a distinctly un-First, possibly Great Western green and brown in First Class, whilst shades of brown fought with purple and turquoise in a truly eye-popping Standard Class moquette. Who would win?

First, of course: but also Great Western. The timetables of 2005 introduced the finalised Dynamic Lines look, complete with new First Great Western and First Great Western Link logotypes, more elegantly set in Helvetica Light, and finally joined to the First logo. First's cheap-looking pink and purple had been toned down to a deep rubine and only-slightly-purple blue. Turquoise was gone. A gradient down the locomotive and coach sides was tried, but swiftly replaced with solid colour. Once settled, it was a look distinctive to the railway, but distinctively First too, and - at last - it actually looked like a well-executed livery that fitted on the trains. Combined with simple interiors in reasonably sober colours, a revitalised website and a new uniform that was standardised across Intercity and local services, First Great Western finally looked like it knew what it was called, where it was going, and what kind of company it wanted to be: a railway company rather than a bus company, coherent, forward-looking and, well, dynamic.

Then came a surprise: those unloved pacers and sprinters on the branch lines would get a special version of the dynamic lines livery, which close-up could be seen to be made up of hundreds of place names from the Great Western region. An unusual piece of fun from the usually dull First Group, and a brilliant twist. Bus company and railway could not only live in harmony, they could have fun at the same time.

Slowly, however, there were still hints of something stirring. Advertising campaigns that encouraged customers to be "a Great Westerner" (rather than a "First Great Westerner") used posters whose simple formula of huge destination images had more in common with Big Four advertising than other train companies' adverts for cheap tickets, wifi or websites. A revamp of the Pullman brought a genuine surprise: the (rather cheeky) return of the London and Bristol crests used by the real Great Western Railway, not just on the menus but all over the crockery too. Then came the First Class refurbishment in green (green?), brown (green AND brown?!) and featuring (no, surely not?) an unexplained GWR motif. It would take a devoted follower of corporate style to notice the spots in First Group purple: buried in the mostly green and brown carpet. Could the railway identity be fighting back?

And lo: GWR was reborn. At first, only GWR: the magic words "Great Western Railway" emerged some time after the initials, so I suspect that GWR was supposed to be a stand-alone initialism like BP or BT. And green returned to the trains. Darker and plainer than before, perhaps a little drab, perhaps just understated. But distinctively 'railway' at last. The 3D logos on a couple of HSTs were almost as classy as the Intercity Swallow or GNER crests. The stated aim to create an identity that would be a "natural continuum" as if GWR had simply been evolving since 1948 was an unusually frank nod to the lines' heritage. The branding of the shortened HSTS as 'Castles' is a nice nod to the old GWR's locos, while the refusal to adopt a pointless 'marketing' brand for the IETs suggests a no-nonsense approach that is rather refreshing. There is even continuity from BR: the timetables are now set in Univers, exactly the typeface specified by the famous BR identity of 1965 for printed materials.

Has the current branding succeeded in bringing "the renaissance of rail"? I'm not sure. The livery has done a good job of unifying a disparate fleet of trains and making even the older stock look rather good. It's good to see the whole GWR network being branded and marketed as a coherent unit, which helps dispel the feeling that branchlines are playing second fiddle to the Intercity operation. It is a great pity that the IET interiors, particularly First Class, are so bland: I don't think they live up to the spirit of GWR at all, when the Night Riviera refurbishment shows what could be done. I'm not entirely convinced by the application of the typefaces: there's too much of the serif font Glypha for my liking, particularly on signage where a neutral sans-serif would be better (and it seems Network Rail agree with their new Rail Alphabet 2); if they kept Glypha for headlines, I'd be happier. And the brand cannot overcome underlying problems of short-formed trains, absent catering or eye-watering commmuter ticket prices: but no brand really could.

It's been an extraordinary ride for what has outwardly been one company since privatisation (though technically a new company since 2005). And with five identities in 24 years, and uncertainty over the future of franchising/contracts, who knows how long this iteration of Great Western will last.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.

Top