Image credits: Sam Lane Photography

Greg Dingle, London Regional Director at The Churchill Group provides an overview on how station facility managers can focus on sustainability while setting high standards in cleaning and hygiene to keep all users safe.

Hygiene continues to be front and centre of rail operators’ minds. As uncertainty surrounding the direction of travel in regard to the Covid-19 pandemic remains, train companies are having to remain on their guard to ensure their services are safe for customers, many of whom may still be uncertain about travelling on public transport.

From deploying expanded cleaning schedules to implementing distancing measures and one-way systems at stations, the rail sector has stepped up as a critical service that has had no choice but to continue operating throughout these challenging times.

Without it, countless people (including essential workers) would not have been able to commute to and from work and keep the country moving. And as we start to see greater use of rail again, this attention to detail in terms of hygiene will no doubt remain.

Safe and sustainable

Events of this year have also seen environmental issues rise up the agenda. COP26 in particular has shone a bright spotlight on sustainability, with pledges and commitments made that will no doubt shape the strategies of public and private organisations in the short and long term.

One of the most striking announcements came from Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who unveiled plans to make it mandatory for companies to publish net zero transition plans and have them evaluated by an independent taskforce.

This means that rail operators, including facilities managers at stations, must prioritise both safety and sustainability in tandem if they want to succeed.

Sustainable station management at St Pancras

We work with several rail operators up and down the country, including Network Rail High Speed which manages one of the busiest terminals in London – St Pancras International.

Here, during peak times, one million passengers pass in and out of the station on a monthly basis, from daily commuters and business travellers to visitors both from the UK and abroad.

St Pancras is itself something of a destination station. Packed with duty-free style retail and dining outlets, it represents a unique blend of new and old architecture, with half of the station comprised of grade I listed ironwork combined with modern glasswork.

We have worked with Network Rail High Speed since 2017, delivering cleaning, janitorial and pest control services to help ensure a safe and welcoming environment awaits arriving and departing passengers.

Central to the contact since we took over has been the promotion of a strong ethos of responsible, eco-friendly cleaning.

As a result, and in line with Network Rail’s eagerness to explore more eco-friendly options, we implemented chemical-free cleaning processes at the beginning of the tenure. Additionally, we also use our cleaning products in soluble sachets as opposed to plastic containers, a move which has allowed us to save more than 24 tonnes of plastic across all our contracts in 2019 and 2020 – the St Pancras team contributing to this achievement.

These actions are helping to drive a circular economy approach. Facilities management (FM) service providers should collaborate with stakeholders in their supply chain to encourage product innovations, phase out unnecessary raw material usage and, ultimately, consider ways to do more with less.

In response to the heightened need for excellent cleaning and hygiene standards, we implemented PRISM, our workplace hygiene programme. This combines people, science and technology to ensure that the station remains safe for all users.

As a result, our cleaning strategy is informed by data and the client has an ongoing overview of what we are doing – and why.

Waste is another area rail station FM teams can and should explore as a means of boosting sustainable practices.

St Pancras is a more complex setup than most stations in the country. Thanks to an array of site users, retailers, and restaurants, a huge variety of waste products need to be processed and managed.

Previously, this waste was collected in a central waste bin and sent to a landfill. While it represented the simplest option, we have been working to provide an efficient
and cost-effective way of sorting waste and diverting as much as possible away from landfill sites.

Leveraging technology

Here, technology has proven to be a game changer. At St Pancras, it was vital to get visibility over who was creating what type of waste. In response to this challenge, we issued every waste producer a unique ID code which is used to manage their waste – when it is brought for disposal, the operative in the service yard scans each different type of waste and where it’s coming from. Importantly, every stakeholder uses the same tools with no extra resource or expense required.

At this point, the food, glass, and general landfill waste is weighed and recorded, information which is fed into a kilogramme by-kilogramme account of who’s creating what, helping Network Rail High Speed to charge each vendor appropriately.

Furthermore, by being charged correctly and in line with more sustainable standards, we have found that retailers and other station vendors are more careful with their waste practices. In this case, technology has helped to change the mindset of station based businesses for the better.

Technology can also be leveraged to make cleaner regimes smarter and, in turn, more sustainable.

In June 2020, we teamed up with tech specialist Infogrid to develop and implement a smart cleaning strategy at St Pancras, a process which is ongoing and subject to constant refinement as new ideas are explored.

We began by implementing an Internet of Things (IoT) powered system in the station’s restrooms. Here, utilisation sensors have been installed to understand flow, with additional sensors being placed in toilet roll holders to alert cleaning teams when stocks need replenishing.

What this data-driven insight offers is the ability to run a responsive cleaning rota which allows cleaning operatives to be on the scene as and when required via alerts to their personal devices. It also helps to cut down on wastage, as cleaning products are used when needed and sanitary items replaced when they have run out.

Over time, this programme will enable us to create a more predictive, data-driven offering. By doing this, we can increase cleaning presence in peak times and reduce it at times when footfall is lower. Based on such knowledge, we can identify inefficiencies in cleaning hours and redeploy those personnel to high touch point areas and sanitisation programmes.

A safe and sustainable future

Moving forwards, it is our expectation and hope that more rail station FM teams adopt smarter waste management and cleaning solutions.

Not only will this serve important safety and sustainability objectives, but there is also a compelling business case for making investments into these kinds of initiatives, not least because a key metric used to measure success at all rail stations is customer experience and satisfaction.

At St Pancras, we have managed to achieve a 95 per cent pass rate for cleaning audits carried out, with the main drivers for passenger satisfaction including station upkeep and cleanliness.

During our contract period to date, we have also witnessed a reduction in accidents due to an increase in health and safety awareness, alongside a decrease in customer complaints and an enhanced team culture.

Our work has also been independently verified by Bureau Veritas (BV), a world leader in testing, inspection and certification. BV reviews take place every six months and St Pancras was reaccredited in December 2021.

We have also received recognition from the facilities management industry specifically for our sustainable work. In November we won the ‘Partners in Sustainability’ category at the PFM awards, one of the leading industry awards.

As we enter what we all hope is the post-pandemic period, safety and sustainability will remain at the forefront of the public conscience. Those operators that demonstrate their commitment to creating hygienic and environmentally responsible rail stations will no doubt position themselves more favourably among the travelling masses.