Amtrak Virginia

Amtrak Virginia

Case Study: Amtrak Virginia
Project: New Service Branding / Launch

Pulsar was hired by DRPT to promote new train service originating in Virginia. One train originates in Lynchburg for the first time, and the other train adds to the existing list of morning service to Washington, D.C. and points north all the way to Boston.


With this pilot program, Virginia joins 14 other states in the U.S. that already contract with Amtrak for the operation of trains that supplement the national Amtrak network by extending the reach of passenger rail services or provide additional frequencies on Amtrak routes.

This new passenger rail service connects communities along U.S. 29 and I-95 to Washington, D.C., and the entire Northeast Corridor providing more transportation options and choices for commuters and other travelers in both corridors. The service also benefits the economic development and potential for long-term growth in both corridors.


While DRPT and the Commonwealth of Virginia have specific ridership goals it must achieve on this new passenger rail service from Lynchburg to Washington, D.C. and from Richmond to Washington, D.C., there is little to distinguish these two trains from other Amtrak service available in these corridors except that the service originates in Virginia, which provides for a more reliable departure time.

Pulsar recommended that instead of singling out these two specific trains, that an umbrella brand be developed to market and advertise all trains providing service in Virginia as Amtrak Virginia. This new brand has its own logo, colors, look and feel and its own website. On a limited budget, Pulsar worked with DRPT and Amtrak to develop a one-year Communications Plan encompassing marketing, outreach, public relations and advertising, capitalizing on all of the resources Amtrak could bring to the Amtrak Virginia brand.

Because many people are unfamiliar with the convenience and ease of train travel, Pulsar developed a print, outdoor, radio and online banner advertising campaign around the simple message of breaking away from the crowd. Flocks of geese and herds of horses are seen traveling in the same direction with one animal “Making a Break For It,” and going off in the opposite direction. Additionally, a limited time 25 percent discount was promoted as the kick-off call to action.

The campaign included the following creative elements:

• Outdoor billboards
• Print ads in weekly newspapers and magazines
• Banner ads in online newspapers and on
• Direct mail
• Facebook tabs, contests and advertising
• Google adwords
• Radio traffic tags

Pulsar also led public relations and media outreach to encourage press coverage of the Whistle Stop Train Tour launching the Lynchburg line including developing a targeted rail, transportation and statewide media list, sending press releases and media alerts as well as conducting personal invitation phone calls to ensure media presence. The Associated Press and every major news media outlet in the corridor picked up the Lynchburg train launch story.


Because Amtrak had never done much marketing or advertising in Virginia or the Northeast Corridor, they became strong supporters and allies for Amtrak Virginia. Pulsar was working with a media buying budget of only $50,000 to support the new Amtrak Virginia service, and Amtrak stepped forward with a matching media buy in major weekly print and online newspapers across the Commonwealth. Additionally, Amtrak provided opportunities for multiple free media placements in the Amtrak product line including a full-page color ad in Amtrak’s System Timetable magazine, as well as a full-page color ad and news article in Amtrak’s onboard magazine, Arrive.

The new Lynchburg service launched Oct. 1, 2009, and in the first year of operation, the new Lynchburg service carried 126,072 passengers – more than double the Commonwealth’s ridership goal, and raised $7.5 million in ticket revenue – tripling its revenue goal of $2.5 million. The Lynchburg train is the best performing state-supported train in Amtrak’s system.

The new Richmond/Northeast Corridor Line is also doing well, but full results are not in yet because it has not yet been in service for a full year. However projected out, in the latest performance report available, it had already exceeded its revenue projections by 37 percent. The Richmond trains are an additional round trip service on a long established, but little promoted, Amtrak route.

Additionally, Amtrak ridership is up across the board in the Commonwealth, affirming Pulsar’s strategy to promote all train service in Virginia under the umbrella Amtrak Virginia brand. In fact, Virginia statewide Amtrak ridership for May 2011 (the last month for which statistics are available) increased 21 percent compared to May 2010.