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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Railroad Touts Price, Comfort in First Ad Drive

When most Russians think about traveling by rail, unpleasant memories of an inefficient and often perplexing system spring to mind.

Booking tickets in advance always costs more than buying them the day of departure. Finding a ticket for weekend or holiday travel often means turning to the ticket mafia - shady entrepreneurs who hawk tickets in the street. And then there are the train cars themselves, with air conditioners switched off on hot summer days and conductors handing out wet bed sheets that are impossible to sleep on.

But the Railways Ministry, which runs the nation's thousands of kilometers of track, plans to change those perceptions with the first ever advertising campaign in the railway's 135-year history.

"We decided now was the time to launch an advertising campaign," said Leonid Kostrov, head of Transreklamservice, the ministry's public relations department.

The ads, which started running last week, aim to win over long-distance travelers by showing that travel aboard trains was significantly improved in recent years. Television ad spots, produced by Euro-RSCG Maxima advertising agency, stress that it is comfortable, safe and inexpensive to take the train. The commercials focus on different age groups, with one showing students enjoying their journey and another of a couple taking their kids on vacation.

"Unfortunately, a lot of people still do not know what steps we have made to improve the quality of traveling by trains," Kostrov said.

Among the changes showcased in the ads are business centers at train stations equipped with computers and fax machines. Passengers aboard trains now also have access to mobile telephones.

A new train wagon with individual television sets and showers was inaugurated last weekend for travel between major cities.

The ads are expected to appear on major television channels ORT, RTR and NTV, in national newspapers such as Komsomolskaya Pravda and Argumenty i Facty and on state radio stations Mayak and Russkoye Radio.

Kostrov declined to say how much the ad campaign was costing the ministry, which is chronically underfunded by the state. He did say that a major part of the promotion would be paid by barter deals.

The ministry hopes to increase the number of rail travelers "by several percent," Kostrov said.

"If you take the number of passengers brought to long-distance destinations in 1998 by planes, cars and trains, we account for 42 percent of the volume," he said. "If the number of passengers we take is increased by several percent, it will be a significant plus."

Some 100 million tickets on international and long-distance routes and 1 billion tickets on short-distance routes were sold in Russia last year.

Oleg Panoff, president of Euro RSCG Russia, said the ads are similar to those run by other railroads around the world.

"A lot of similar campaigns are being conducted, and many of them succeed," said Panoff.

Railway employees said they were pleased to see that the ministry was finally showcasing the railroad.

"I do hate advertising, especially when they are shown in the middle of an interesting film," said Natalia Dudkina, deputy head of the Savyolovsky Station in Moscow.

However, "they show how real service should work," she said.

Dudkina said she has not yet seen any passenger reaction to the ads, but the ministry plans to hold regular monthly forums with passengers to get their feedback.

"We will find out their opinions later, in June, when a first regular meeting with passengers will be held at Savyolovsky Station," she said.

The Railways Ministry is not the first government agency to turn to advertising. The State Property Committee ran an ad campaign, partially produced by Berson-Marsteller, several years ago to explain privatization. The Tax Ministry has run thousands of ads in an attempt to get Russians to pay their taxes. The taxmen are currently running a campaign under the slogan "Nobody Can Help Russia Except for Us," produced by the Adventa ad agency.