The enduring love affair with railway design

As a nation, despite our grumbling about the state of the railway system and its operation, deep down we seem collectively to continue to have a close affection for ideas of design in the railways in Britain. Quite apart from the engineering aspects of the railway, rolling stock, engines and the perceived romanticism of bygone rail travel, the architecture and form of the infrastructure and the visual communication methods deployed by the rail companies themselves continue to have a distinct ‘heritage’ aesthetic, even when newly created. There has long been a tradition in railway advertising of using historic sites at locations which the railway served or passed by.

This has been seen most recently in advertising campaign rolled out by GWR – itself a relaunched heritage brand harking back to the days before British Rail (also a distinct heritage brand with a very strong design heritage). The advertising seen across the rail network in the west of England and in the London termini have drawn on the classic childrens’ literature aesthetic centred around Enid Blyton’s Famous Five to create a sense of adventure, discovery, social relations, holidays and the idea of it being fun to travel by rail. Various buildings and landscapes across the south west have been depicted as well, producing an interesting layering of heritage messages and associations with this form of travel