The power of image

There’s been something of a shift in how rail freight is presented that increasingly brings joy, interest and positive messaging to the wider world about who and what is moving around the network. At a time when some of the creative branding applied to passenger rolling stock appears to be being neutered to standard pale grey and limited space to be creative with operator branding, presumably to reduce cost each time an operator changes, rail freight is getting ever more creative and colourful.

We are used to shipping containers being in global corporate colours. Intermodal services either being solid, reassuring block trains of one Line’s boxes, underpinning the message of their commitment to rail, or mixed trains being a riot of colour galloping across the countryside.  The vibrant pink of Ocean Network Express (ONE), moving with the mustard-coloured MSC boxes, Maersk’s logo large and proud on their grey boxes mix with the greens of Evergreen, blues of CGM-CMA and stylish scrips of Safmarine, reds of K Line and oranges of Hapag-Lloyd, amongst others.

The colours and branding of our domestic intermodal logistics operators, j G Russell and Malcolm Logistics are a familiar sight plying the WCML and M6, drawing a tangible link between road and rail.  Doing so in a different way Maritime Transport also blurs the line between road and rail through fully branded traction, provided by DB Cargo and GBRf.  PD Ports loco branding signals where freight services are connected to, usefully messaging to the shipping industry where rail freight options are available.

Encouragingly, retailers increasingly see the positive message of trains branded in their colours and logos being symbolic of their commitment to decarbonising their supply chains.  Tesco of course was an early adopter and following the takeover of Eddie Stobart by Culina Group, another major logistics brand is starting to make its presence felt.  At corporate board tables, this association and confidence in rail freight matters and sends subtle messages to consumers, logistics directors alike. It’s fair to say too that policymakers and politicians taking decisions about rail freight may find it easier to link what rail freight delivers when expressed in the terms of familiar names in on the high street.

But digital printing has led to Freight Operating Companies themselves becoming among the most creative. In our increasingly digital age, where imagery is so powerful, the striking flames applied to DB Cargo’s “Steel on Steel” loco humanise the cargo being conveyed, as does DRS’s “Refrigerated Rail. Cool Move” branding associated to its refrigerated flows for Tesco. The creative image-led approach to emphasising the environmental and economic value of Rail Freight forms much of DB Cargo’s recent campaigns, whereas GBRf’s “rainbow fleet” uses these new graphic techniques in an innovative way to engage the wider society, including recognising the work of the NHS.

Rail freight will always be industrial in nature, misunderstood by many, sometimes intrusive, but playing a critical role in the supply chain and meeting many national needs.  Having a bit of fun with how it’s presented to improve the perception, understanding and impact of the industry can only be a good thing and long may it continue!


DRA ‘Refridgerated Rail’

Freightliner ‘As one, we can’


DB Cargo ‘I’m the backbone of the economy’

DB Cargo ‘WH Malcolm’


DB Cargo Steel onb Steel