Where work starts all over again with the arrival of each new train
Daniel Jörg and his team are responsible for the cleaning of 30 train stations in the Bern region of Switzerland. Wetrok had the opportunity to shadow the team leader of BLS-Verkehrsbetriebe for a day of cleaning at the Hasle-Rüegsau train station near Burgdorf — even in the control centre, where all train traffic is monitored. At the centre, there is an important safety measure that must always be observed during cleaning.
“Excuse me, can you tell me from which platform the train to Sumiswald will be leaving?”, an elderly lady asks, hurriedly approaching Daniel Jörg. The team leader of the cleaning and service crew at Hasle-Rüegsau train station is used to these kinds of questions. “We are basically the first point of contact for our customers. That is why helpfulness, good manners and service orientation are just as important for cleaning personnel at a train station as the professional handling of the cleaning machines”, explains Daniel Jörg. The bright orange coveralls play their part, too. But the team of 12 has a lot of work to do at the 30 train stations – when they aren’t assisting travellers with timetable information. Their tasks are many and varied — from cleaning to maintenance of the greenery, to troubleshooting ticket machines and even greasing and oiling the track switches. Everyone works together for a common goal: visitors to the train station should feel comfortable and safe. Train stations never sleep, which is why Daniel Jörg’s work day starts early. His first cleaning project today: the control centre.
Moisture poses a hazard in sensitive areas
Armed with dust cloths, floor cleaning equipment and a mop, the man in orange opens the door to the control centre. The employees give him a friendly greeting — everyone knows each other here. 50 monitors and various control levers leave no doubt that we have reached the very heart of the train station. Or, to be more precise: the heart of over 30 train stations. After all, this centre controls the train traffic for the entire region. If anything goes wrong, the reaction is immediate. Just like every day, Daniel Jörg clamps a dust cloth onto the Variwet device and begins cleaning the dust from the floor.
The dust cloth offers three distinct advantages over a vacuum cleaner in this environment: it doesn’t stir up dust, poses no tripping hazard with electric cables and the whole cleaning process is silent. Twice a week, he also cleans the floor with a mop. The procedure requires particular caution: the technical systems in the room require extensive cable routing underneath the floor panels. This means that the floor should never be subjected to too much moisture. Cleaning the floors with a standard wet mop is simply not feasible. That is why Daniel Jörg has attached a pressurised spray bottle to the floor cleaning device. Spray mopping is the perfect cleaning method here. Soiled areas can be given just a few sprays of cleaning solution and wiped away with the mop. This way, the floor is never completely wet and Daniel Jörg and his team can maintain a high level of cleanliness. They do the same in the travel centre.
Foreign travel and greasy fingerprints
You can find customers booking trips or purchasing train tickets at the travel centre at any time of the day. All cleaning must therefore be done efficiently and with as little bothersome noise as possible. It takes Daniel Jörg less than a minute to deftly roll up and set aside the dirt-trapping mat at the entrance to the travel centre. Now it’s time to get to work with the scrubber-dryer. There isn’t much space to manoeuvre, but that is no problem for the agile Discomatic Bolero. The tall man almost seems like a giant next to the compact cleaning machine. Even scrub drying underneath the service desks is done easily and comfortably. The bright front light on the cleaning machine allows Daniel Jörg to spot dirt in the farthest corners right away — without having to bend down. He also vacuums the artificial stone floor beneath the desks in reverse to prevent any slipping hazards. The job is done in just a few minutes and the next customers can book their trips in the fresh-smelling office.
As he leaves the building, Daniel Jörg spots some fingerprints and hand cream residue on the door handle. He is carrying a foam bottle for just such an eventuality.
Before he started his rounds this morning, he mixed some chemical cleaning products with water in a foam bottle. All he has to do now is give the bottle a gentle squeeze and out flows a stream of white cleaning foam. He uses a microfibre cloth to spread the foam on the door handle. “With the cleaning foam, I don’t have to breathe in any spray particles like I would with a spray, and I can achieve optimal surface wetting”, explains Daniel Jörg as he wipes the door handle clean. The foam bottle is needed once again at his next cleaning location.
A taboo for brushed stainless steel: circular wiping motions
Just outside the travel centre is an information panel with a width of around four metres. It shines brightly in the green and yellow BLS colours and offers travellers timetable information. There is also an emergency call button on the panel. Daniel Jörg and his team regularly test it to make sure it is working properly. “It is usually enough to just clean the illuminated panel with foam twice a week. However, we currently have a lot of construction dust settling on it, which means that we need to clean it more frequently at the moment”, explains Daniel Jörg and slides his finger over the top edge of the panel to prove his point.
Once people have found the information they are looking for on the panel, they can then purchase their ticket from the ticket machine across the way. It, too, gets cleaned twice a week — but with a melamine hand pad. It looks like a snow-white sponge and is highly abrasive, which means a bit of the pad is worn away during each cleaning. He wipes the pad across the stainless steel surface from the top down. He knows that it is important to work in the direction of the brush marks when cleaning stainless steel. A circular motion would leave behind smears and the result would not be visually appealing. The difference is obvious after a single swipe of the pad: the cleaned surface gleams like new. Since abrasive particles from the pad are left on the stainless steel, Daniel Jörg swaps the pad for a microfibre cloth once he is done cleaning. This removes the particles while he dries the ticket machine.
His final cleaning stop for the day is the lavatories. Here, too, he relies on cleaning foam and a microfibre cloth. Sometimes, however, a little more is needed: “We don’t really have much vandalism and graffiti around here, but if it does happen, it usually takes us a couple of hours to remove it. It’s actually wasted work”, muses Daniel Jörg. As he closes the door to the lavatories and turns around, a middle-aged man stands before him. Might he also be looking for the train to Sumiswald?
Short interview with Daniel Jörg, Service & Greenery Maintenance Team Leader at BLS
“When it comes to cleaning train stations, all you need is one big group of school kids and you can start your work all over again”
What are the challenges in cleaning train stations?
A train station never really closes. We have to do our cleaning jobs during operating hours and with plenty of foot traffic. The tricky thing is that the flow of visitors is irregular and unpredictable. If we have just finished cleaning the train station from top to bottom, all it takes is one big group of school kids — and we can start our work all over again. We also have to do our work as quietly and unobtrusively as possible. Considerations about the volume of a vacuum cleaner and switching to cleaning methods with lower risk of slipping are key issues for us. And then there is always somewhat of a conflict of objectives within a team that is responsible for technical service and for cleaning: clean train stations are the calling card of BLS — but anything to do with safe train traffic (e.g., operating track switches) takes precedence, of course. Safety first! On top of that, for the people passing through the train station, we are also the first point of contact for any issues they have (he grins).
Has that led to any unique experiences for you?
Once, there was a festival weekend in a nearby community. The following morning, I wanted to get started with cleaning the sanitary facilities in the lavatories, when I found a young man fast asleep on the floor. I woke him up and accompanied him to the city train. Most of the time, though, it’s just simple issues like train information or someone who purchasing the wrong tickets. For all of us, be it cleaning personnel, platform monitors or consultants at the travel centre, everyone passing through the train station is our customer. We do our best to offer them the best possible service no matter what the issue — even if that issue isn’t part of our job profile.
You switched to cleaning from an entirely different profession and completed your master cleaning course at Wetrok just this spring. What has changed since then in your daily routine?
Plenty! In the Wetrok Masters Course, I learned that there are many different tests that can be used to determine a floor type. I have used all of them several times by now, and the results have allowed us to use cleaning products on many floors that are more target-oriented for the particular floor characteristics. This helps us keep the floors looking like new for longer. And I have replaced some obsolete cleaning methods with others that save a lot of time. The dirt-trapping mats in the travel centre, for example, are now cleaned with the carpet pad and the single-brush machine. We also introduced foam cleaning for surfaces and the sanitary facilities. Work safety is a key focus for BLS, and switching from sprays to cleaning foam means that our personnel are no longer at risk of inhaling spray particles. Many of my team members at the course were amazed at how much we can save with correct dosing and by reducing the number of products we use. The fact is that, if you know which cleaning product to use where, then just a few polyvalent products can simplify your work processes enormously.
Do you believe that ongoing training is important in the cleaning sector? And if yes: why?
Absolutely! As a supervisor, you have a certain responsibility and you share your knowledge with your team. I feel it is my duty to stay on the ball, since traditional cleaning methods are increasingly being replaced by more efficient and ergonomic ones. After all, I don’t want to tell my team something that isn’t correct. Supervisors should also be able to clarify contexts and offer background information on topics like determining pH values or the effects of surfactants. That is why ongoing cleaning training is an investment in the future — the future of the individual, the team and the company.
About BLS AG
BLS is one of the largest transport companies in Switzerland. Its name is based on the erstwhile Bern-Lötschberg-Simplon train(BLS). In its core business segment of trains, the company operates train lines for commuting and leisure travel on a 420 km railway network. BLS additionally operates bus lines, car shuttle trains at Lötschberg and Simplon, shipping lines on Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, as well as freight train lines. In 2018, BLS transported 66.3 million passengers in their trains and buses and on their ships.