CorpComms Awards

Best crisis or issues management

Winner 2021
Hitachi 800 fleet issues

As a long-distance rail operator, LNER is no stranger to dealing with disruptions, from the fearsome leaves on the line, to infrastructure challenges and even animals trespassing along its routes. Its response has been to remain agile and establish clear lines of communication with all key audiences.

But at 4.30am on Saturday 8 May, LNER was alerted to a hitherto unknown form of disruption. Cracks had been found underneath several Hitachi 800 trains which, until then, formed the entirety of its fleet known as Azuma. Hitachi announced that all Class 800 trains would be prevented from service until safety checks had been completed.

This move would obviously lead to the cancellation of all LNER services, which would have a major impact for days, weeks and potentially months ahead.

Working with counterparts at Hitachi, Great Western Railway, the Department for Transport and Rail Delivery Group, LNER’s communications team swiftly created an aligned approach from the initial media statement to an agreed Forward Recovery Plan. A communications toolkit ensured a consistent approach across different audiences.

LNER informed passengers through its website, apps and social media channels, but was also scrupulous about ensuring that all media coverage was accurate. The communications team responded to an unprecedented volume of media calls and swiftly addressed any inaccurate or misleading reports.

Internally, it organised the first ever Disruption Managers’ Call for 450 managers, which featured updates from the business and also shared key messages for frontline team members to use.

As the initial reaction to the announcement eased, LNER organised regular calls between relevant teams, internally and externally, to ensure collaboration and that a consistent and clear message was being conveyed to customers. MPs and MSPs received verbal briefings on the situation, while a newsletter kept stakeholders briefed.

Media alerts served to keep customers updated about the latest fleet information, how best to check their travel plans and their rights should they no longer travel or complete their journey.

As a result of LNER’s swift response, and a determination to keep to the key principles of its existing crisis communications plan, 72 per cent of media coverage was neutral. LNER was also not the focus of attention, with Hitachi and Great Western Railway receiving greater attention.

From the outset, LNER’s communications team was focused on ensuring that the rail operator’s brand was left unscathed. This proved to be the case when its June sentiment scores bounced back to 24 per cent positive (22 per cent in May), 67 per cent neutral (five per cent) and nine per cent negative (-17 per cent).