Inspiring confidence in railway hygiene

19th of November 2020
Inspiring confidence in railway hygiene
Inspiring confidence in railway hygiene

Facilities management services provider The Churchill Group in the UK has partnered with Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) since 2017 on a cleaning contract that covers around 300 stations. In this case study for ECJ, regional manager Tonka Valkinova focuses on the last six months and the work undertaken in light of the pandemic. She explains how the teams quickly identified and mobilised solutions, and the importance of this work in maintaining passenger confidence in rail travel.

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) operates the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern services, as well as the Gatwick Express airport service to and from London Victoria. Govia is one of the UK’s busiest rail operators, currently providing about 25 per cent of all passenger journeys. The company has extensive experience running complex and challenging rail operations, managing significant change programmes, and it has introduced more new train fleets in the UK than any other operator.

The Covid-19 pandemic brought about challenges not seen before. This case study summarises how Churchill worked with GTR to ensure station hygiene, employee safety and passenger confidence.
We started working with GTR in June 2017 on a comprehensive cleaning contract. Cleaning is a core part of our business but GTR has certainly been a unique challenge. The three lines that GTR runs – Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern – had different cleaning regimes and we wanted to merge the three lines together. That’s more than 300 stations including major hubs such as Brighton, Gatwick and East Croydon.

When the pandemic hit, just like the rest of the country, we had to react quickly and effectively. Even with much of the country in lockdown, trains were still being used by thousands of key workers so we had to make sure that stations were safe places. We also needed to ensure the safety of train drivers, as well as our cleaning teams.

We were fortunate in some respects that we had been in partnership for nearly three years by this point and so had a strong relationship with GTR. However, we also happened to have a new main contact at GTR right around this time which meant we had to jump straight in and establish trust from the outset. Despite being unable to meet face-to-face, we have developed a great relationship which is vital for any successful partnership, let alone one dealing with this situation.

Initial response

We were able to take a leading role in our partnership with GTR with regards to planning and implementing the necessary response and cleaning regimes. The previous results of our work and our quick response were key in giving GTR the confidence in our ability to navigate the pandemic.

As soon as it became clear what a huge impact the pandemic was going to have on our country, the senior management team at Churchill established a Covid taskforce. As a result, we had process-orientated resources and documents on sanitisation that we were able to share with our cleaning crews at the outset of the lockdown. We also had existing stock of certain hygiene products and thanks to the rapid response of our taskforce, we were able to purchase other virucidal products very early on and get them to all cleaning teams.

One of our first steps was to introduce additional cleaning teams. We mobilised 10 teams to cover all locations. Working in tandem with our existing daily and zonal teams, this not only helped to keep stations hygienic, but provided an ongoing visual presence that reassured passengers and employees alike.

All cleaning staff received a training toolkit to help understand the new products and procedures, as well as high-visibility vests with messaging on the back that reminds people to maintain social distance whenever possible.

We use our digital platform, Mo:dus, to keep in constant communication with all teams and also developed a symptom tracker on the app. Cleaning operatives are encouraged to check their symptoms daily and report if they are feeling unwell. This helps to ensure the health of all our employees, as well as reducing the risk of infection spreading among our teams.

We worked with our cleaning teams and GTR to identify high-risk touchpoints such as door handles, stairway rails and lift buttons. These are now cleaned more frequently than other areas, and all cleaning operatives start their shifts focusing on touchpoints.

These steps have helped set a strong foundation for station hygiene, but of course more needs to be done to truly cut down on the risk of infection and contamination.

Advanced cleaning

We have equipped our teams with the latest hygiene equipment so that they can carry out their roles to the highest standard. The fogging machines we use can treat up to 30 square metres and work by delivering an antimicrobial mist that sanitises and protects all surfaces. The product our teams have been using stays active on surfaces for 30 days after use, but we agreed with GTR to reapply every 21 days to be extra safe.

We have also given our teams cordless backpack electrostatic sprayers. Electrostatic delivers charged droplets that are actively attracted to surfaces which ensures even coverage across all surfaces. Furthermore, the droplets attach to the sides and crevices of surfaces regardless of the direction of spray.

The fogging and electrostatic spray, combined with the other cleaning methods our teams employ, ensures all surfaces are being treated in multiple ways. But we don’t take that for granted. We use ATP testing to test for live cells on a surface. These tests don’t detect viruses, but they do detect the amount of organic matter on any given surface, which viruses need to survive. We test random stations and so far all results have come back within acceptable parameters.

Confidence to travel

Train stations are going to keep getting busier as we ease our way out of the lockdown – especially now that the government is actively pushing for people to return to the office. One major barrier to this return is people’s potential reluctance to use public transport, so our priority is to keep stations hygienic and demonstrate that to the public.

One way we monitor traveller satisfaction is through the National Rail Passenger Survey. The survey is carried out twice a year and consults more than 50,000 passengers, making it the largest published rail passenger satisfaction survey in the world. It measures all aspects of a station’s performance, including cleanliness.

Between the spring 2016 results and the most recent survey results in spring 2020, three of the four lines we work on with GTR have seen an increased score for customer satisfaction. We hope that the extensive cleaning methods and regimes we have carried out since March will be reflected in the latest survey results as we continue to strive for 100 per cent satisfaction.

We’ve had some wonderful feedback from passengers on Twitter who have commended our cleaners for the work they do, and clients have also been quick to praise our crews. Paul Wyborn, the area manager at High Weald, said: “The cleaner employed by Churchill has been very impressive and the feedback we received from staff is that he is amazing and doesn’t need guidance, helps passengers when required and is doing a lot more cleaning than he is meant to do. The feedback was so impressive that as a management team we decided to award him our first ever employee of the month for the Sutton & Epsom Area.”

Regardless of how quickly people return to their pre-Covid commutes, train stations remain crucial transport hubs. More people are using trains to visit friends and family for the first time since March, and of course as Christmas approaches the demand will likely be as high as any other year.

We’ll continue doing all we can to ensure station hygiene, which will include innovating and adapting as new methods become available and as Government advice changes. The goal is that the public will feel completely safe travelling by train, and consequently will be able to get back to their normal routines.


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