Mind the Branding Gap: First Crossrail Services to Launch as TfL Rail

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Back in July, MTR were awarded the contract to run all Crossrail services. It would be easy to assume that this translates to services starting in 2018, when the central tunnel section is due to open. In truth, however, Crossrail services start far earlier than that. For the Crossrail Concession includes the operation of Liverpool Street – Shenfield services from May 2015 onwards.

Gaining an Identity

For some time this early takeover has led to an interesting subject for debate – just how will these services be branded?

On the surface this would seem to be something of a no-brainer. Crossrail has already been given both the roundel and the colour purple by TfL. Look deeper, however, and a key issue arises – that of public perception of the Crossrail brand.

A(nother) new train set for London

The success of the Overground, and indeed the general improvement of the image of the Underground in recent times, has left TfL with something of a problem.

In general, the public see TfL branded services as better (or at least very different) to their equivalents on national rail – even in situations where statistically it is not always the case. Building this image was a significant challenge at the beginning of the London Overground, and it is an image that TfL are no doubt keen to protect.

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Original promotional image for the London Overground

Indeed preserving this image will pose a major challenge when taking over Anglia services, an issue we’ll look at in a future article on the current state of the Overground in general, for the public may well expect to see a step-change improvement on day one, whereas the truth is that positive changes, where possible, will likely be far more gradual. If it will be a challenge here, however, then it will be an even larger one on Crossrail.

With Crossrail not only do TfL face the challenge of taking over existing services that will need updating and rebranding, but they also need to do so with a railway where images of tunnelling, new station mockups and new trains have naturally dominated press coverage of the line. From a public perspective, therefore, Crossrail is largely a brand new railway which will feature brand new trains.

This is something that will obviously not be the case on takeover of Shenfield services in 2015. Not only will this see the Crossrail Concession effectively running identical services to those currently in place (at least to begin with), but it will also see them operated by existing rolling stock whilst production of the new trains is underway.

Mind the gap

Managing the public’s expectations in this situation was always likely to be a challenge but, thanks to MTR, it seems we now know how TfL plan to address it.

As part of the build up to the takeover of services, MTR have quietly launched a basic Crossrail Concession website. At the moment, its contents are relatively sparse, it being largely a holding site for more details to come. In laying out the timetable of takeover, however, it provides the following clarification:

We will operate services from the 31 May 2015 between Liverpool Street and Shenfield under the banner of TfL Rail, using existing trains that currently operate on that route and while work continues on the building of the new tunnels, stations, station improvements and new trains.

It’s a simple paragraph, but one with big implications. For it finally reveals how TfL plan to handle the transition between the old and the new – by creating a new, temporary, brand.

Getting the stickers out

The practicalities of how this new “TfL Rail” brand is likely to be expressed are now relatively easy to guess. Those who used the North London Line during its transition from Silverlink to Overground will remember that during the early days of the TfL takeover existing trains were rebranded by applying temporary decals featuring the new roundel and colour scheme. Meanwhile, stations acquired temporary signs which, interestingly, became something of a commuter favourite in their own right thanks to the somewhat amusing contrast between their sturdy construction and their proud proclamation of their temporary nature. Overall it was a simple and successful approach to managing the identity change and thus it seems relatively safe to say that we will see the same plan again with Shenfield services.

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Temporary signage at Acton Central

The big (circular) question

This leaves one final question, of course – will TfL Rail carry the roundel?

Here, again, it seems safe to look to the precedent set by that temporary Overground branding. We are likely to see the Roundel on the services and stations taken over by MTR under the concession, because not to do so would be to miss an opportunity to highlight that changes and improvements are underway. The betting money here at LR Towers, however, would be on that Roundel not being in Crossrail purple, which would lead to confusion between TfL Rail and the future Crossrail brand, but in a transitional colour – blue.

It may seem thoroughly un-LR-like for us to make such a prediction. But here we feel we are on relatively solid ground. A dark blue roundel would provide an easy transition to the future purple not just in tone but because the Crossrail roundel (like the Overground roundel) already features a blue bar.

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The Crossrail Roundel, with blue bar

Given that, again as with the Overground, the Crossrail concession includes the need for a deep clean and touch up of existing stations, blue would allow TfL and MTR to begin this process early in the contract. As a secondary colour within the future Crossrail brand, using blue would mean no need to repeat the process again with a purple colour scheme in the not-too-distant future. Blue has also featured heavily in many of the designs for the future station interiors seen so far.

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Blue has featured heavily in the Crossrail interiors since the earliest station mockups. More pictures here.

Ultimately, whether this prediction proves true or not, the overall plan on the part of TfL seems a sound one. Create a transitional brand to help demonstrate that changes are afoot, and also to facilitate the shift to the future Crossrail identity – most likely with that brand close enough in terms of tone to allow a swift start to be made on improvements without adding rebranding costs further down the line.

As always, we will watch future developments with interest.

Written by John Bull