Cross-Channel train cleaning on Eurostar

1st of May 2012

European Cleaning Journal editor Michelle Marshall visits St Pancras International station in London, home of the Eurostar rail service, to find out about the challenges of providing turnaround cleaning services on its trains.

Eurostar is the high-speed railway service connecting London with Paris and Brussels. Launched in 1994 from London’s Waterloo International station, the service relocated to the redeveloped St Pancras International terminal in 2007. Eurostar currently offers 17 weekday London to Paris services (20 on Fridays), and 11 London to Brussels trains.

The 27 trains in the fleet can run at speeds up to 300 km per hour on high-speed lines, and 160 km per hour in the Channel Tunnel. This means a journey time of two hours and 15 minutes for London to Paris, and one hour and 51 minutes for London to Brussels.

The service can truly be said to have set new standards in international rail travel – 9.5 million passengers used it in 2010. For a cleaning company then, this makes it a prestigious and high profile contract.

UK-based facilities services group OCS was recently awarded the contract to provide cleaning services on the Eurostar trains at St Pancras International station, and in addition at the Temple Mills depot in East London. Barnaby Fenwick is the contract manager for OCS based at St Pancras and Temple Mills, and he explained how the company has a long history with Eurostar. “OCS originally took over the train and premises cleaning at Waterloo International station in 2003 and in 2006 added cleaning at the North Pole depot in White City.

“Following the move to St Pancras in 2007 we continued to provide train turnaround cleaning, as well as cleaning services at the station itself and at the new depot in East London.” Whilst losing the station and train contract in 2009, OCS retained the depot cleaning contract and won the train cleaning business again in November 2011.

Two sites, one tender

Last year was the first time the contract for both sites was tendered as one, explained Paula Longuehaye, cleaning contracts manager for Eurostar. “From our point of view it’s been highly beneficial to have one contractor cleaning the trains. We have also now moved the deep clean function to the station which means we can carry out deep cleaning of trains on site overnight, seven nights a week. Previously this level of cleaning was always carried out at the depot. Now
the only train cleaning carried out at Temple Mills is night service cleaning.

“Hence the frequency of deep cleans has increased significantly - every train is deep cleaned after between 45 and 60 days - and if there is a problem at one of the sites (sometimes the electricity supply fails for example) resources can be deployed at the other site and the service doesn’t suffer.” Being away from the depot also means cleaners no longer have to work alongside engineers, and that customers are boarding the trains very soon after deep cleaning has been completed.

Both client and contractor have also seen improvements in their working relationship now that both sites are operating in tandem. “Communication between the OCS teams and Eurostar is much better now,” Longuehaye added. “The transfer of deep cleaning operations to the station opened up a dialogue that didn’t really exist before. The production controller decides which trains will be deep cleaned each night, he keeps the data on when all trains were last cleaned, so he then communicates that to OCS staff in compiling schedules.”

The turnaround teams work in two shifts – from 8.00am to 4.00pm and 3.30pm to 11.00pm. When a train arrives from Paris or Brussels the team of nine people gets on board and has just 25 minutes to clean the toilets, vacuum floors, pick up litter and complete any other urgent cleaning tasks. One person is dedicated to the buffet car and galley, while a tractor driver follows on to pick up the rubbish collected by the team. Fenwick emphasised: “The train has to be presentable for its next journey according to the Eurostar specification.”

Physical work

This is actually very physical work – the team cleans up to 15 trains in each shift and each cleaner can walk up to five miles a day. They have to be physically fit.

When the train reaches its destination in Paris or Brussels, a turnaround clean is carried out by a local contractor. All deep cleans are carried out in the UK by OCS.

Deep cleans are the responsibility of the night shift, and that team works from 9.30pm to 5.30am. This all-male group of 12 carries out a much more thorough clean of each train. “Everything from head height to floor is thoroughly vacuumed and scrubbed; detailed cleaning of toilets, carpets, luggage racks, doors, lights, ceilings and glass is carried out,” said Fenwick. “And even the seat bases in the first class coaches are removed for cleaning.”

There are 58 cleaners in total at St Pancras (another 53 people work at the depot) and some of them have been working at Eurostar since 1995 – testament to the fact that this is a good place to work for a cleaning operative. Fenwick explained why the staff turnover rates are so low, at between 10 and 12 per cent. “The pay rates are high here compared to other local contracts, and Eurostar is also seen as a very prestigious contract to work on. There is a real sense of camaraderie amongst the team, and fantastic teamwork. Much of the cleaning is daytime and all shifts are full-time jobs, which helps enormously in retaining good quality staff.”

What’s been the biggest challenge on the Eurostar contract from OCS’ point of view? “The movement of the deep cleaning function to St Pancras was enormously challenging and that only happened in November 2011,” replied Fenwick. “Deep cleaning at the station can be more problematic than at the depot because, for example, the water system has to be transported to platforms, and the deep clean operatives have had to familiarise themselves with the station site.”

All aspects of the cleaning contract run according to Eurostar’s strict specification and the service is closely monitored by two of its auditors – a minimum of 132 joint train audits are carried out every month, in addition to the minimum of 43 self audits OCS does. As Longuehaye explained: “Criteria are weighted towards the most important passenger areas. So the tables come with a higher score than luggage racks for example.”

The auditors are always accompanied by a member of the OCS management or supervisory team – both client and contractor use the same system, operated via PDAs. It’s a very open and amicable way of working, according to Longuehaye. “We would rather pay the whole management fee to OCS than be looking for areas where we can penalise our contractor. So it’s important that the entire process is open and transparent, and the cleaners know exactly what is expected of them.

Best value for money

“For me it’s not about where we can save money, it’s where we can get the most value for money. With that in mind, my job is to challenge the contractor but not be unrealistic in my expectations.”

As the client, what are Longuehaye’s top priorities currently in her expectations of the cleaning service? “We’re concentrating on deep cleaning and getting that right,” she replied. “We will then analyse how the daily turnaround operations can improve and be more efficient.” From Fenwick’s perspective, turnaround cleans can certainly be streamlined. “As technology, cleaning equipment and machine batteries develop, we are confident that those time-critical turnaround cleans can be more efficient.”

Eurostar has recently announced an 840 million euros capital investment in its fleet, which includes purchasing 10 new trainsets in 2014, and completing the overhaul and refurbishment of the existing fleet. The role of OCS in ensuring the smooth running and high standards of the service will become even more crucial, and Longuehaye is confident.

“The relationship between Eurostar and OCS has built up well over the years. We have similar cultures and we see a real willingness on their part to deliver a high standard of service to their client.”


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