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ISSUES OF RELEVANCE TO RAIL PASSENGER TRAVEL IN A POST COVID-19 ENVIRONMENT

Published: 18/05/2020

ISSUES OF RELEVANCE TO RAIL PASSENGER TRAVEL IN A POST COVID-19 ENVIRONMENT

18th May 2020 

 

These notes have been compiled by Michael Formaini (CMILT) in response to a prompt from CILTA concerning an International Conversation of CILT discussing possible responses to increased use of Public Transport as various economies return to some semblance of normality.

 

The writer spent several hours of observation recently to see how Metro Trains Melbourne is dealing with the current (early May 2020) situation and noted that use is down considerably from normal due to lockdown of non-essential businesses and consequent reduction in public transport usage. The observations made, of necessity, were noted during an off-peak period to reduce personal risk of exposure to COVID-19. The writer also noted the passage of several tram and bus services whilst conducting his observations.

 

Beyond the observations listed below, the writer believes that further steps to ensure recommended social distancing rules will become necessary as use of services increases, particularly during peak periods (hopefully extended peaks as flexible start/finish times are encouraged).

 

  • No crowd control measures were observed in operation at major stations attended/passed, although Authorised Officers were noted at two locations monitoring platform behaviour.

 

  • Periodic announcements on trains and at stations from the Metrol Control Centre encouraging social distancing and discouraging customers with mild cold symptoms were noted.

 

  • There were no restrictions within train carriages as to where customers could sit; however, most travellers were using common sense and maintaining social distancing.

 

  • Ticket Barriers at Flinders Street were attended as usual and several customer service personnel were noted on platforms and the concourse to assist customers as required. A cursory glance across the concourse revealed one takeaway food outlet fronting the street was in operation.

 

  • Customer service/ticketing windows at major stations were in normal use. However, there did not appear to be sanitiser dispensers on the customer side of windows at those observed. The writer did not use toilet/washroom facilities so cannot comment on this aspect of disease control.

 

The writer believes the issues overleaf will require addressing for both the travelling public and rail staff as travel restrictions are eased and service use intensifies until such time as evidence that the COVID virus has been eliminated or substantially controlled.

 

Crowd Control at major stations

Some of the issues identified are;-

  • Defined directional pathways, signage (including distancing markers on the paths), temporary barriers, locally relevant public announcements.
  • Regulation of access to platforms and trains, monitored by on platform staff communicating with concourse controllers as appropriate (similar to arrangements in place for major events).
  • Cleaning staff on platforms to wipe touch services as required. Some increased layovers of trains may be required for cleaners to access heavily patronized arrivals before subsequent trips if the specific train does not go out of service after discharging passengers. This could present crowd control issues in some circumstances and would probably be more practicable at outstation terminals than in Central Melbourne.

 

Revised diagramming of train trips to allow for inter-trip cleaning

            There are obvious cost and efficiency penalties associated with re-diagramming of train trips to cater for inter-trip cleaning that might become necessary as patronage increases. While nightly sanitation of all transport vehicles is already happening, inter-trip cleaning and sanitation is more likely to be demanded by health authorities as patronage increases until such time as the COVID-19 virus has been eliminated or significantly brought under control.

            This has knock-on effects on scheduled maintenance and periodic overhauls which will have to be re-programmed.

            To some extent, the effect on additional fleet requirement to cover such cleaning may be mitigated by extension of current practices at outstations inter-peak where some trains are stabled between morning and afternoon peaks. A number of outstation terminals have more than one platform and by extending normal turnarounds to accommodate inter-trip cleaning, the number of additional trains required to maintain a given service frequency may not necessarily be difficult to achieve, particularly if trains that would normally stable between peaks are incorporated into the mix.

            The major incremental cost may be in provision of additional cleaning staff and some additional drivers or re-jigging of driver rosters to cover extended layover times.

 

Reduction of Passenger Capacity on Trains

            To maintain social distancing as patronage increases, it may become necessary to place ‘Out of Use’ labelling on alternative seats or rows of seats within trains and to restrict the number of standing passengers. Additional monitoring by Authorised Officers may be required to control this.

 

Station Staff, Train Driver and Cleaning Contractor Training and Management

            Numerous Issues arise here;-

  • Increased tact with customer communications, care of personal appearance and hygiene, including provision and use of sanitiser dispensers, use of gloves, management of ticket barriers and platforms at terminal stations, sensitive assistance to vulnerable customers,

 

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  • Thorough cleaning, equipping and maintenance of staff and public areas, including booking offices, meal rooms, locker rooms, staff and public toilets/washrooms, ticket machine buttons and apertures, validators, train information pods, barriers, handrails, platform seats and lifts/escalators where provided, as well as regular cleaning of litter bins.

 

  • Station/Line Management to ensure unmanned stations are maintained to higher standards of accessibility and cleanliness consistent with Health Authority requirements,

 

  • Train Drivers are suitably trained in situational awareness as to the cleanliness of driving compartments, including control equipment, first aid and stretcher equipment and surfaces surrounding disability ramp cabinets in adjacent passenger compartments.

 

Specific Passenger Rolling Stock Issues

            In all examples, cleaning and sanitising must be applied to door access buttons, handrails and strap hangers, seats (including seat bases and hand grips) window interiors and inside sills and the exterior of airconditioning outlets. Litter, where encountered, must be removed and spillages/soiling of seats and floors cleaned promptly. Carpeted flooring must be deep cleaned at least once daily.

In the case of interurban and long distance passenger rolling stock, cleaning and sanitising must extend to toilets/washrooms (also to replenishing of toilet paper, soap and paper towels where necessary), seat back tables and shared tables, luggage spaces and railings, power points and charging facilities (where provided), floor heating ducts and overhead airconditioning outlets, all touch areas in and around buffet service areas, drinking fountains and litter bins, control cabinets, within dining and club carriages and within sleeping/shower compartments. Where head rest antimaccassors are provided, they must be replaced after each trip. Bed linen and towels in sleeping carriages also must be replaced after each trip. Litter bins must be cleared and new liner bags fitted at the end of each trip.

 

On Train Customer Service Staff

Train Conductors, Authorised Officers, Buffet Attendants and Dining Car Staff must be equipped with sanitary gloves on each service trip and be trained in additional precautions applicable to their respective duties, particularly in respect to social distancing and tactful interaction with passengers on long distance services.

 

Customer Transactions

            On line travel information and ticketing for long distance travel should be encouraged where this is possible.

            Where ever possible, cash transactions should be avoided, or at least minimised. Touch and Go or Credit Card transactions should be the norm. Where customer or staff contact of EFTPOS/Credit Card machines is necessary for PIN or receipt purposes, the machine should be sanitised after each transaction. Myki machines should be cleaned at least once daily as part of station management.

 

The above are some of the issues this writer identifies as needing addressing by Rail Passenger Service

Operators. Others may be raised in further discussion with Operators and/or Health Authorities.

                                                                                 

MICHAEL FORMAINI (CMILT)
mdgf.mf@gmail.com
 

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