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Amtrak Taps Country Star to Boost Brand

Singer Martina McBride trades tour bus for train car

Martina McBride rode the rails from Los Angeles to New York. | Photo by Eli Meir Kaplan/Getty Images for Adweek

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Amtrak, the forever-struggling cross-country railroad service, is hoping to boost its brand with a little crossover country music. Last week, singer Martina McBride—the self-styled “Celine Dion of country”—traded in her tour bus for a passenger car, making a four-day trip from Los Angeles to New York to promote her 11th studio album, Eleven.

“We can travel so much further by train than bus,” she said, adding that the whistle-stop route was her first time riding the rails. Thanks to her, she’s not the only one. “The audience coming out to greet Martina is generally younger” than the usual long-distance ridership, Amtrak marketing chief David Lim told Adweek.

Amtrak needs all the help it can get. Ridership is higher than ever, but it’s hemorrhaging cash—a fact it blames on costly, government-mandated routes. Amtrak also relies heavily on federal cash—much of which is on the chopping block under current proposals in Congress.

To keep getting “new people into the funnel,” Lim says, the railway hired the Tallahassee, Fla.-based Bright Red to lead Amtrak’s next big foray into social media. Can all this make Amtrak into the little engine that could?