Carriage Cleaning: How Clean Is Your Train?

Clean Hire looks at railway carriage cleaning practices

The wonders of carriage cleaning on an Arriva Trains Wales Class 150
A nice clean train: the wonders of carriage cleaning on an Arriva Trains Wales Class 150 Sprinter train. Image by Peter Skuce, 2009 (Public Domain).

Many of us pay a princely sum for our season tickets each month or year.  Among our biggest complaints besides punctuality, reliability and overcrowding is cleanliness.  Or the lack of it, such as dirty seats and blocked toilets.  Of great importance to the operation of our rail network, is carriage cleaning.

Carriage cleaning takes place at the operator’s depot(s) or at stations between journeys.  As passengers dismount at the train’s final destination, an army of cleaners are ready to clean the train before its next journey.  All within a short time limit.

In Japan, the Shinkansen train service from Tokyo permits a seven minute window for carriage cleaning.  Each employee is allocated a carriage, which holds up to 100 seated passengers.  Going from one end to another on each carriage takes 12 seconds.  Seven minutes later, the 16 carriage train is ready for boarding.  Over 300 Shinkansen trains depart from Tokyo each day.

Their cleaners are directly employed by the three Japanese railway companies (JR Central, JR Kyushu, and JR West).  This speeded up YouTube clip below shows how the trains are cleaned.  What’s amazing is how each row of seats can be turned around.

In England, Scotland and Wales, carriage cleaning is undertaken by private companies like Mitie and Teamwork (UK) Ltd.  Or they may be employed by one of Britain’s 25 rail franchises.  Before privatisation, this was the job of each British Rail sector (i.e. Provincial, InterCity) and, latterly in preparation for privatisation, each operator within the BR sectors (for example, North West Regional Railways).

In 2013, First Capital Connect made a film about carriage cleaning for its London operations.  It not only details the logistical requirements, there is also a paternalistic reminder at the close of the clip for commuters.  In other words, a passive aggressive way of saying ‘keep your feet off the seats’ and ‘please refrain from blocking the toilets’.  Here’s the clip from First Capital Connect:

Cleanliness isn’t only encouraged on our railways; passengers are encouraged to play an active part in making sure their trains are clean for the next group of passengers.  Sometimes, any discrepancies can be reported to the train operator.  For example, Northern Rail allows you to report faults on Twitter by tweeting the carriage’s fleet number, as seen below.

A similar reporting method has begun in India on a limited number of express trains. Known as OBHS – or On-Board Housekeeping System – passengers either send a text message, or email  They would describe which part of the train needs cleaning. An Android app is also available.

Carriage cleaning can be a thankless job. Cleaners not only have to deal with used paper cups, tatty newspapers or crisp packets. Sometimes it could be vomit, blocked toilets or blood. With franchisees required to meet punctuality and reliability targets on our trains, efficiency is key, especially between journeys for another group of passengers. As they pay a princely sum for their train fares, they expect nothing but the best.

Some of Clean Hire’s industrial vacuums are suitable for cleaning buses, trains and trams. The CFM 127 cylinder vacuum is a fine example. For details on this model, click here.

Clean Hire, 28 January 2016.