AMTRAK TRIES TO DERAIL STODGY IMAGE: $12 MIL TO TOUT FASTER NEW YORK-TO-BOSTON SERVICE

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Amtrak views its image as old-fashion, and next month will unveil elements of a plan to revamp that perception.

Now readying a major equipment upgrade, to include the launch of an ultra-high-speed Northeast corridor train later this year, Amtrak also is developing a new logo, a different brand name for the new train and other steps to improve passenger service.

The National Railroad Passenger Corp. will try to leverage its Amtrak name via tie-ins, marketing programs and merchandising.

"If Amtrak has a new business commitment to delivering service differently, the difficulty is to separate that new image from what you get today," said Barbara Richardson, Amtrak's exec VP-marketing and communications. "You can't look like the same old Amtrak."

FALL BARRAGE

The major barrage will hit when Amtrak breaks a $12 million campaign late this fall for its Northeast service -- trains that will cut 11/2 hours off the 41/2-hour trip between New York and Boston.

Amtrak is hoping that at least in the Northeast service improvements will be obvious. Besides drastically cutting time, the European-designed trains will offer TV in club cars and more comfortable seats.

Passengers on other Northeast trains also will see benefits as the equipment now used on Metroliners replaces other older, slower trains.

Ms. Richardson said work by agency DDB Needham Worldwide, New York, and image consultant IDEO, also New York, in preparing for the Northeast service started a re-examination of the brand.

The agencies concluded that Amtrak was perceived as "complacent," "outdated" and even "shabby." Earlier promotion of individual trains caused the overall brand image to suffer, she said.

"People are tired of being jammed into an airline's inhumane seats to get somewhere in a quick way," said Ms. Richardson. "People want a more personal way to travel, to have some amenities."

The repositioning may be Amtrak's last chance. Congress has directed Amtrak to be self-sufficient for operating revenues by 2002.

Amtrak hopes to get more revenues from stations, selling freight service to quick-delivery companies and selling the use of its land rights-of-way to telephone marketers. But passenger service must still provide the bulk of revenues.

CORRIDOR SERVICE PLANS

Amtrak hopes to expand corridor service such as that in the Northeast. Such trains already are running on the West Coast. A $600,000 ad campaign promoting the Coast Starlight line on the Pacific Coast is running on cable TV in several West Coast cites.

Four spots, from Elgin/DDB, Seattle, feature vignettes that highlight unusual features of the train while trying to be somewhat more "edgy" than previous Amtrak ads.

Last week, Amtrak's cross-country train service marketing arm began a promotion with Major League Baseball. The campaign, with TV and print ads from Ammirati

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