01 October 2010

World train speed record broken...or not!

Chinese high-speed train at platform
A little fact-checking is always a good thing.

On Weds, the China Daily News reported that the new Shanghai-Hangzhou high-speed train had, the day before, set a new world speed record with a run peaking at 416.6 kph (258.8 mph).

Later that day, Popular Science magazine ran the story - which is where I picked it up - but acknowledged their source, International Business Times.

As I started writing notes for what would be my version of the story, I began looking for the previous record-holder, who I assumed would be the French since I had written about their record-breaking TGV a year or so back.

Then I read to the bottom of the International Business Times version, which now has a new, rather bland, headline (compare & contrast with the page title in the url!)

As it admits in its correction (and as is pointed out in all the comments) , the French TGV speed record still stands (easily!) at 574.8 kph.

Furthermore, as one commenter points out, the Chinese train is actually an adapted version of Siemens' Velaro trainset!

So, not the fastest and not Chinese.

I don't want to be overly critical.

Firstly, because it is still a remarkable achievement. This train is a production train - one which will, later this month, go into service carrying passengers, as opposed to the French train, which was a specially stripped-out and tuned trainset designed specifically to make an attempt on the speed record.

and secondly, because it's quite an easy mistake to make.

Ok, so engineers working in high-speed rail should and would be aware of the current speed record, but it's not always so easy for others on the fringes, such as PRs. And some 'top-of-the-pile' claims are more obscure.

Take Travelodge hotels for example. Travelodge are a strong brand, pro-actively marketing themselves (we luv their cockney teddy bears!). Yesterday they sent out a press release with the headline: "Travelodge is the first UK hotel to tweet exclusive discounted room rates".

No it's not.

You can see and understand they probably thought they were because they were simply not aware of anybody else, but as it happens another chain (Red Carnation) was doing exactly that at the beginning of the year.

They are not the first and won't be the last (I can say that without fear of being disproved!). I well remember Virgin Atlantic proudly declaring themselves to the the first airline to install seatback videos in all classes... when I had flown in an all-seatback video Emirates plane two years earlier!

So, PRs and marketing folk, when you put "first", "biggest", "tallest", "most expensive" or any other superlative in a press release... be prepared to back it up, or maybe mark it with an asterisk refering the reader to your "unless you know better" get-out clause at the bottom of the page.

We'll be watching.




1 comment:

Jeremy Head said...

We will. It's our job to watch. But PRs need to learn to check their facts. I think you are too kind to them. They know their audience are journalists. They treat us with disrespect clogging up our in trays with these dubious claims and half truths.