Design: Confusing signals for commuters: A panoply of competing logos awaits travellers seeking continuity amid the rail free-for-all

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DESIGNERS are having a bonanza producing logos for the train-operating outfits created in the rail network break-up this month. But some are uneasy about the work. 'I can't defend it,' one says. 'I think customers will get so confused,' says another. 'Frankly, it is a pickle overall,' a third concludes.

The dilemma is in reconciling the wishes of clients with the demands of rail users. 'Each division is trying to have its own identity,' said Gregor Jackson of 4IV Design Consultants, which has worked for Anglia and Southwest Trains. 'Their priority is for the customer to have clarification of what region they are travelling on and what kind of service they are getting.'

But most designers acknowledge the ideal brief would demand a degree of unity and continuity that signals to rail users that they can complete a journey that may rely on two or more companies. Such guarantees will soon be hard to find.

Anglia, the only operator to run local and InterCity services, has adopted a green and mustard colour scheme intended to evoke the fens and broads. The design will appear on signs, uniforms, trains, maps and timetables. Southwest wanted to appear 'fresh, caring and dependable'. ScotRail's logo will be based on lettering, with the possible future addition of pictorial emblems for individual routes within Scotland, such as a salmon for a line to good fishing country.

The task of ensuring a measure of coherence in all this lies with InterCity. According to Martyn Cornwall, InterCity's design manager: 'The InterCity brand will be maintained by the operating units.' Market research has shown people want the reassurance of that brand.

But not all of the new train operators concur. ScotRail held back its launch, scheduled for 1 April, partly because it was thought inopportune to flaunt a new identity at the earliest opportunity. Trains will be branded but not given new liveries, because of the cost and because they will be using leased rolling stock.

The diffusion of design is likely to have more profound consequences. Organisations representing people with disabilities are concerned at the prospect of a wider variety of carriages with unexpected steps and inconsistently placed lavatories, for example.

'Designers will be looking to create something distinctive and actually that's not what we want,' says Lynn Sloman, assistant director of Transport 2000, a pressure group active in the field. 'We need a larger vision.'

In the case of London's buses, steps are being taken to ensure that a sense of order prevails after privatisation. So while buses may be adorned with badges and painted in unfamiliar colours, bus stops, maps and timetables will remain part of a single design scheme.

'Experience outside London has shown that information is one of the first things to be sacrificed,' says Graham Rhodda, a director of Fitch, the design consultancy responsible for seeing that the same does not happen in London.

The policy, backed by the Government, comes not a moment too soon. Some private operators have been fly-posting bus stops with their own stickers. Others have removed references to London Transport from liveries. More confusion arises when buses that advertise their customary routes in large letters painted along their sides are borrowed by another route.

Six out of seven buses in London are still red. And new liveries for central routes must remain predominantly red unless and until the Government pushes ahead with full-scale deregulation. This is thanks to a three-year battle by Jeremy Rewse-Davies, design director of London Transport, backed by tourism organisations.

Guidelines are being drawn up that will require buses to meet standard conditions over the display of route numbers and other information. This will prevent wild excesses such as the temptation to run routes with names only ('The Clapham Omnibus' is one, but it also carries its number) or to cover buses with all-over advertising, as do some taxis.

Proposed liveries will be submitted to London Transport Buses, the company set up at the beginning of this month to oversee privatised operators.

There could even be gains for passengers in the rainbow of liveries, provided these safeguards are met. 'Most people are indifferent to the colour as long as a bus goes where and when it should, courteously and efficiently,' notes John Cartledge, assistant secretary of the London Regional Passengers' Committee.

Indeed, a distinctive livery allows waiting passengers to spot which bus is coming from further away. It also allows individual operators to promote themselves effectively in their own localities.

'It's a good idea for passengers to get a local message from local operators,' says Norman Cohen, operations and marketing director of London Buses. Meanwhile, 'LT will promote buses as a mode of travel through corporate advertising.'

(Photograph omitted)