Case study: Digital hub helps First Great Western to keep Dawlish train line on track

Digital marketing industry case study library


After the sea wall on the Dawlish line is badly breached, First Great Western partners with ORM to create a travel advice hub for users of the washed away railway line. This case study looks at how customers and the public were kept in the loop on progress restoring the vital and historic rail line- boosting customer support and web traffic in the process.


When First Great Western experienced unprecedented disruption to its services as one of the worst storms in living memory battered the South West coast of England, it was an agile digital marketing strategy that formed the backbone to customer engagement in the rebuild process.

It was on Wednesday 5th February 2014 that Dawlish grabbed all of the headlines when the extreme weather conditions washed the track foundations of the Dawlish sea wall away causing widespread disruptions to its services due to flooding and signalling failure. Network Rail tasked itself to complete the rebuild within an eight week window in a bid to keep disruption to a minimum for its users including South West businesses, who have collectively suffered losses of between £5-10 million per day from the line closure.

In one of the most challenging times for the network, First Great Western’s digital team was tasked with creating a reactive and engaging travel hub with agile content to ensure that users of the Dawlish line were kept updated with important travel information. First Great Western aimed to deliver a seamless and positive customer experience for both web and mobile users.

First Great Western is one of the country’s largest train operators, running over 9,000 services a week and covering a network of over 250 stations. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was commissioned to build the Dawlish line in 1843 which is regarded as one of the world’s most iconic stretches of railway as it hugs its way along the South Devon coastline.


With the sea wall breached and almost 150ft of track destroyed, digital strategy and design agency, ORM, partnered with First Great Western's Digital Marketing Manager - Jason Ali and his team to create a go to point for customers.

Jason and his team collaborated to deploy an agile content delivery approach where customers could receive instant updates on the line’s rebuilding progress. First Great Western saw it as an opportunity to boost positivity with rapid, relevant updates to the South West.


The digital hub delivered real-time travel updates with news and images of track reparations. ORM was tasked with providing user experience and design expertise, transforming First Great Western's digital engagement with customers during the storms.

To develop a deeper engagement during severe disruption, ORM aggregated relevant content from around the web about the disruption, making First Great Western the most engaging source of information in one central location. This content was mobile-optimised via an application to enable passengers to access updates on the move.

Network Rail provided key information for the travel hub, with content taken from its website and edited by ORM to create a customer-friendly link roll that included input from national news sources. The site also included more social content to visually tell the story of rebuilding the railways affected.

An agile approach was taken to publishing content with relevant and timely updates uploaded and changes made instantly to aid customer travel plans. The hub served as the most up-to-date source of reliable information for First Great Western customers.

Social media also formed an important part of distributing important updates and encouraging engagement with passengers in the area. Through First Great Western’s Facebook page, customers could receive the latest news on the line’s progress with alerts and advice through Twitter that might influence the customer’s journey.

To celebrate the reopening of the line and following tireless work to get the area rebuilt, First Great Western gave away two First Class tickets to anywhere on its network, every hour of the reopening day. ORM worked with First Great Western to run a Facebook campaign where users could ‘Like’ to enter.


First Great Western experienced a 45 per cent increase in web traffic having created the travel hub during the rebuild process. Concerned passengers also contributed to a 31 per cent increase in app sessions as rail engineers worked to get the line back on track.

Customer service through social media was also a key indicator of the First Great Western’s success in elevating its digital presence during the Dawlish rebuild. After the incident, there was an initial 166 per cent increase in tweets due to customer enquiries. Thanks to the travel hub and proactive social media updates, these customer support tweets were cut by 59 per cent as passengers were kept informed throughout the rebuild process.

However, the most telling customer service statistic following the Dawlish digital campaign was the 28 per cent increase in retained current customers, showing the appreciation for real-time updates and loyalty to the First Great Western brand.

Jason Ali, Digital Marketing Manager concludes, "At First Great Western, customers are at the heart of everything we do. With ORM's User Experience expertise and the dedication and commitment of First Great Western's digital team, we were able to provide a seamless and user friendly experience on both the website and smartphones to provide the right information at the right time throughout the months of unprecedented disruptions".

Copyright ©2000-2022 Digital Strategy Consulting Limited | All rights reserved | This material is for your personal use only | Using this site constitutes acceptance of our user agreement and privacy policy