The rail infrastructure operator had shortlisted eight out of 26 applications to compete for the account.
Ed Wilson, head of public affairs for the company, said the race ‘had gone right to the wire and MHP would be a tough act to follow but Portland did enough to edge themselves in front’.
The appointment comes as Network Rail sets out its costing plan for the 2014-19 period with oversight from the Office of the Rail Regulator, with the total cost of running and upgrading Britain’s railways likely to be between £35bn and £40bn.
Wilson added: ‘Network Rail is operating in an environment where there is an entirely legitimate and intense political interest in our plans, priorities and activities.
‘It's our job to do the best we can to explain those to our key political stakeholders - not just MPs but other elected politicians, and bodies such as Local Enterprise Partnerships who are rightly interested in rail investment priorities at a regional and national level, whether that it is our plans for the Great Western Main Line, the Northern Hub or any one of hundreds of projects to improve the railway.’
Portland’s work will focus on political monitoring and engagement, with the potential to include strategic comms counsel. Network Rail does not currently work with any other comms agency.
Wilson added: ‘We find working with an agency a really cost-effective means of securing high-quality support for our in-house team in terms of Parliamentary monitoring and political engagement while also adding the virtue of wise counsel at a more strategic level.’
Portland’s public affairs and corporate communications partner Oliver Pauley will lead the account, reporting to Wilson and director of communications Tom Kelly.