National Rail - Design and Marketing

Design and Marketing

Since the privatisation of British Rail there is no longer a single approach to design on railways in Great Britain. The look and feel of signage, liveries and marketing material is largely the preserve of the individual TOCs.

However, National Rail continues to use BR's famous double-arrow symbol, designed by Gerald Burney of the Design Research Unit. It has been incorporated in the National Rail logotype and is displayed on tickets, the National Rail website and other publicity. The trademark rights to the double arrow symbol remain state-owned, being vested in the Secretary of State for Transport.

It seems likely that the continued use of the symbol immediately after privatisation had more to do with convenience than design: changing it would have made obsolete all the road signs using it to indicate railway stations. Individual operators would also have had no more right than any other private company for their "advertisement" to appear on traffic signs, whereas the double arrow was already prescribed for indicating a "railway station". However, in recent times the symbol has had a renaissance, and new stations display it.

The lettering used in the National Rail logotype is a modified form of the typeface Sassoon Bold. Some train operating companies continue to use the former British Rail Rail Alphabet lettering to varying degrees in station signage, although its use is no longer universal; however it remains compulsory (under Railway Group Standards) for safety signage in trackside areas and is still common (although not universal) on rolling stock.

It is a common misconception that Rail Alphabet was also used for printed material, but with the exception of logos ("British Rail", etc.) this has never been the case. The British Rail typefaces of choice from 1965 were Helvetica and Univers, with others (particularly Frutiger) coming into use during the sectorisation period after 1983. TOCs may use what they like: examples include Futura (Stagecoach Group), Helvetica (FirstGroup and National Express), Frutiger (Arriva Trains Wales), Bliss (CrossCountry, an Arriva franchise but not branded as such), and a modified version of Precious by London Midland.

Although TOCs compete against each other for franchises, and for passengers on routes where more than one TOC operates, the strapline used with the National Rail logo is 'Britain's train companies working together'.

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