GWR - style over substance or something more?

Image from Hitachi Trains Europe via Wikipedia
It's easy to be cynical when a company like First Great Western, the railway franchise serving the South West, undergoes a rebranding exercise, suggesting it's like sugar coating something inedible. But I am holding back a little before taking this view - because it can make a significant difference.

Of course there is no doubt that part of it is superficial, though even that superficial part can be important. How something looks can have a big impact on our attitude to it. It's not for nothing that supermarkets tend to put their budget own brand food in pretty awfully designed and coloured packaging. They want us to feel that we are slumming it. When I get on a train, I want to have more Orient Express than Heathrow Express about the experience, and the livery is a starting point for how that experience feels.

At the moment, First Great Western trains are painted a fairly sickening purple and magenta, colours that surely could only have appealed to a colour-blind designer. To make matters worse, as someone pointed out on Facebook recently, the trains have a series of parallel lines down the side which start to wave around and jump all over towards the end - surely a graphic representation of a train that starts off heading along steadily and firmly on the permanent way, but that ends up derailed and skewing all over the place. And that name 'First Great Western' seems unpleasantly, plastically corporate.

In its place we have the positive double whammy of the name Great Western Railway, redolent of the period when railway travel really could be exciting (and something of a religion in Swindon, where I live)
, and a subtle and impressive dark green paint job, not unlike the colours of the old GWR engines (and, frankly, a lot more attractive than the old chocolate and cream that GWR used on rolling stock, though I'm sure many enthusiasts would disagree). Even the logo, with its angular lettering, has a feeling of a past age brought into the present. And the look of the onboard signs, one of the first things to have changed on the actual trains (I'm yet to see one in the new livery) is hugely improved on the old graphic design.

A good move, then on the look. But the real opportunity of a rebranding is also to do something about the feel. The danger is in skimping at this point. If a company really wants to make a difference with such a process, they need to pour money into staff training, improving customer service, and to make some noticeable changes to the comfort and journey experience of passengers. A major rebranding exercise is always expensive. So the best thing is to bite the bullet and make sure it's not just skin deep.

So that's why I'm giving the new GWR the benefit of the doubt. I really want them to succeed with this. And the acid test will be if they are prepared to put their money where their paintbrush is and transform the customer experience.