Why Clean Trains Mean Tidy Returns
Train presentation. TP for short. Or, as your customers might put it: making your trains look clean and smart.
It’s the biggest and easiest-to-complain-about aspect of service quality (SQ). And since SQ scores will soon influence how much train companies get paid, it’s something the whole industry needs to polish up on.
For many operators, TP is a fairly unsophisticated process. Cleaners hop on, do their stuff, fill out some paperwork and hop off again. Meanwhile, in an office somewhere, the SQ managers cross their fingers and hope for the best.
It’s a system based more on rotas and schedules than data and intelligence. Which means a lot of box-ticking busywork – and precious little opportunity to measure and continuously improve performance.
But things are changing. Some forward-thinking train companies are digitising their TP operations, using data to eliminate waste, deploy staff more smartly and, ultimately, raise their SQ scores.
Smarter turnaround cleans
Turnaround cleans pose a particular challenge. The train stops at its terminus, and cleaners have just a few minutes to make it presentable again before it sets off for the return.
In that time they must remove a whole service’s worth of rubbish, clean and restock the toilets, and clear up any other mess they find. All while customers distract them with questions they really aren’t paid to answer.
They might complete a full turnaround clean. They might only manage part of it. With a non-digitised TP process, there’s no proof either way. So if a passenger gets on at the first stop and complains about a coffee spillage on their table, it’s their word against the cleaner’s.
The customer says the mess was there when they boarded. The cleaner insists it was sparkling just one stop before. But since there’s no evidence, the passenger gets the benefit of the doubt – and it’s assumed the cleaner did a shoddy job. Not necessarily fair, and not great for team morale.
A smarter, digitised turnaround clean would bypass all that bother. Cleaners board the train, scan in with their phone, and see a prioritised list of tasks – all logged and updated by colleagues on the outbound journey.
They see, for instance, that the toilets in coach two are fully stocked, but the ones in coach four have run out of soap. So they know what resources they need, and where to focus their efforts to maximise their time.
If they complete the full turnaround clean, they log it in their app – with photo evidence to support. This means when the coffee-spillage complaint comes in, they can turn around and say: “Hang on, I cleaned that table. And here’s the proof”.
Equally, if they aren’t able to finish, they can log the reason why. The TP manager can then take that data, learn from it, put measures in place to improve – and ensure better SQ scores in the future.
Data-driven daily cleans
Trains get a thorough clean every night at the depot. Floors are mopped, surfaces are wiped down, toilets are scrubbed and restocked, and the driver’s cab gets a polish too.
These daily cleans are expensive. They require large teams working fast, and a lot of equipment to support them. So they’re also where a digitised, data-driven process can make the biggest time and cost savings.
If TP issues are logged and tracked in a single source of truth throughout the day, cleaners board the train at the depot knowing exactly what to prioritise. They have a plan and a focus, rather than simply reacting to what they find and wasting valuable time.
They know in advance, for instance, that coach five is particularly filthy, an old poster in coach three needs swapping out, and a seat cover in coach seven needs replacing. So they come prepared with all the right kit.
By logging every task and obstacle from each daily clean, TP teams can build a clear picture of their processes and anticipate any future challenges or staffing needs.
They can understand where time’s being used effectively, where it’s being wasted, and drive continuous improvements. All of which, over time, adds up to better SQ performance.
Of course, a digital process alone isn’t going to make your daily cleans faster. You have to embed it into your organisation, train your people properly, and understand what to do with the data you gather.
But when companies do adopt and embrace it fully, we’ve seen time savings of up to 25% on daily cleans – and a marked uplift in quality.
Deeper deep cleans
Every month or two, trains get a deep clean, where cleaners get on and scrub everything to within an inch of its life.
It’s a larger operation with a lot more focus, and it really gets under the bonnet. It uncovers larger faults, breakages and other issues that aren’t picked up in turnaround or daily cleans.
With a traditional workflow, the process would be reactive – finding and solving problems as the cleaners go along. But when it’s digitised, everything can be tracked, reported and photographed. So you can see larger problems coming down the track, raise engineering issues along the way, and manage your resources accordingly.
Careful COVID sanitisation
Covid has, of course, brought a host of strict new cleaning measures into the mix. Some of which can be difficult to manage and track with a more analogue workflow.
For instance, trains now need to be fumigated every couple of weeks. With a digitised process, you can easily track which trains have been fogged, and when. And you can set up alerts and reminders to ensure you never have any unsanitised trains out in service.
Higher SQ scores. Better employee engagement.
The more data you gather, the more you can streamline processes and reduce costs; the easier it is to deploy existing staff more efficiently; the better your SQ scores will be – and the more money your company can make.
But it’s not only the bottom line that benefits. A digitised process also makes a real difference for your TP teams on the ground.
It makes their daily tasks easier, for a start. But more than that, it helps raise the profile of their work. It allows them to prove what a good job they’re doing, and prevents them from feeling like the easy scapegoat when customers complain about cleanliness.
It also gives them the data – and the voice – to request extra support from their managers when they need it. “We can prove we’re doing our job, and doing it to the best of our ability. But there’s not enough of us to maintain the standards you need in the time we have – so give us more resources.”
Empowered workers are happy workers. Happy workers are proud and productive employees. And that’s got to be good news for any business.