Rail Alphabet is a typeface designed by
Jock Kinneir and Margaret
Calvert for British Railways. First used by them at London Liverpool
Street Station, it was then adopted by the
Design Research Unit
Design Research Unit (DRU)
as part of their comprehensive 1965 rebranding of the company.
Rail Alphabet is similar, but not identical, to a bold weight of
Helvetica. It is not quite as similar to
Akzidenz Grotesk or Arial.
Akzidenz Grotesk had earlier also provided the same designers the
broad inspiration for the Transport typeface used for all road signs
in the United Kingdom.
1 British Rail
2 Post British Rail
3 Other uses
4 New Rail Alphabet
5 See also
7 External links
In 1949 the
Railway Executive decided on standard types of signs to be
used at all stations. Lettering was to use the
Gill Sans typeface on a
background of the regional colour. This style persisted for nearly
In the early 1960s,
British Rail trialled new signs at Coventry
station that made use of Kinnier and Calvert's recently launched
Transport typeface. While Transport has since been an enduring success
on road signs, it was designed around the specific needs of the
roadside environment - such as visibility at speed and in all
weathers. The subsequent creation of
Rail Alphabet was intended to
provide a style of lettering more specifically suited to the station
environment, where it would primarily be viewed indoors by
The DRU's 1965 rebranding of
British Railways included a new logo (the
double arrow), a shortened name British Rail, and the total adoption
Rail Alphabet for all lettering other than printed matter
including station signage, trackside signs, fixed notices, signs
inside trains and train liveries.
Key elements of the rebranding were still being used during much of
the 1980s and
Rail Alphabet was also used as part of the livery of
Sealink ships until that company's privatisation in the late 1980s.
However, by the end of the 1980s, British Rail's various business
units were developing their own individual brands and identities with
Rail Alphabet declining as a consequence. The typeface
remained in near-universal use for signs at railway stations but began
to be replaced with alternatives in other areas, such as in
InterCity's 1989 'Mark 4' passenger carriages which made use of
Frutiger for much of their interior signage.
Post British Rail
The privatisation of
British Rail from 1994 accelerated the decline in
use of the typeface on the railway network with most of the privatised
train operating companies who now manage individual stations choosing
to use the fonts associated with their own corporate identities for
station signs and publicity. More recently, the custom Brunel typeface
Railtrack for signs at major stations and adapted by
Network Rail as
NR Brunel was recommended as a new national standard
for station signs by a 2009 report commissioned by the Secretary of
State for Transport, and has since been adopted by South West
Trains and East Midlands Trains. Meanwhile,
Helvetica Medium has
Rail Alphabet as the industry's preferred typeface for safety
notices within passenger trains due to the ready availability of the
former and for consistency with
British Standards on general safety
Some of the privatised train operators, such as Arriva Trains
Wales, and Merseyrail have continued to use the typeface for
station signage and its use is still prescribed for trackside warning
signs and safety/operating notices.
National Health Service
National Health Service in England, Scotland and Wales adopted
Rail Alphabet for its signs. It is still the dominant typeface used on
signs in older hospitals. It ceased to be used in new builds in the
The English NHS now uses Frutiger, while
NHS Scotland uses Stone
Rail Alphabet was widely used on signs by the British Airports
Authority and by Danish railway company DSB.
New Rail Alphabet
In 2009, a newly digitised version of the typeface was publicly
released. Created by Henrik Kubel of A2/SW/HK in close collaboration
with Margaret Calvert, New
Rail Alphabet features six weights: off
white, white, light, medium, bold and black, with non-aligning
numerals, corresponding italics and a set of Eastern European
UK Railways portal
Gill Sans – the predecessor typeface to Rail Alphabet, used until
Johnston – The typeface used by London Underground, designed by
NR Brunel – the typeface introduced by
Network Rail to replace Rail
Transport – Another typeface designed by Kinneir & Calvert, for
use on UK road signs.
List of public signage typefaces
^ Design Museum -
Jock Kinneir + Margaret Calvert. Retrieved 1 July
^ "Railway Station Signs. Standard Lettering". Warminster &
Westbury journal, and Wilts County Advertiser. England. 20 May 1949.
Retrieved 13 February 2017 – via British Newspaper Archive.
(Subscription required (help)).
^ http://www.doublearrow.co.uk/manual/1_10.1965-04.jpg[permanent dead
^ "Institute of Railway Studies: Railway Ephemera".
^ "Better trail stations" (PDF). November 2009. Archived from the
original (PDF) on 22 November 2009. Retrieved 31 October 2010.
^ "Research Programme" (PDF). Rail Safety and Standards Board. April
2003. Retrieved 31 October 2010.
^ "Making Rail Accessible". Retrieved 14 January 2012.
^ "Liverpool South Parkway on Flickr - Photo Sharing!".
^ "Lineside Operational Safety Signs" (PDF). October 2009.
^ "NHS CFH visual identity guidelines, section 4" (PDF).
^ "NHS Scotland: Corporate Identity".
^ "Eye blog » Rue Britanica.
Typeface name changes after Eye
magazine goes to press".
^ "New Rail Alphabet".
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Rail Alphabet.
Commercial release (includes pdf specimen and archive photos)
Flickr photos of Ra