Rail industry comms teams battle against "misleading" media coverage of fare increases

Investment in the rail industry was the key message pushed by train operators responding to negative publicity over fare increases, industry comms heads have said.

South West Trains: Responding to media attention
South West Trains: Responding to media attention

Comms chiefs said that the industry had to work against a "misleading" picture given by many journalists focusing on the increases rather than the reasons behind them.

An average 2.8 per cent increase in rail fares came into effect yesterday, with the announcement delayed by a few weeks.

The delay followed the Chancellor’s announcement in his Autumn Statement that the rise in the regulated fare price cap was being slowed and put in line with inflation.

Stagecoach Group, which operates East Midlands Trains and South West Trains, issued press releases confirming the average increases and giving details of its investment package.

Stagecoach Group head of media and public affairs Emma Knight said the challenge faced by the industry was that journalists often recycle old headlines rather than covering investment stories, with a lot of coverage "completely misleading".

She said: "Despite the fact that we are proactive in issuing information about how our prices are changing, something that many other service industries do not do, rail fare increases are an easy target for many media outlets who seem unable to look past the same unoriginal headlines."

Another comms head at the heart of the debate, who asked not to be named, agreed.

He told PRWeek that part of the strategy was to make facts and figures available as tangible evidence of the investment being made and how fares help fund it.

The industry response was led by industry body The Rail Delivery Group, which focused on improvements being made to services.

The organisation made an announcement on 23 December when the fare increases were confirmed, and on the same day launched a website giving more information, www.railfares2014.com, followed by a further announcement yesterday and media interviews.

Not all rail companies issued their own announcements, but East Coast Main Line Company issued a release announcing it would be freezing a number of its fares.

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