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Should the Railway BOOT laundry model be reengineered to resupply passenger linen?

In November, Central Railway finally indicated its intention to restart the supply of passenger linen after a gap of almost 20 months. Railway BOOT laundry operators, who had suffered immense losses during the period, felt heartened. Despite the lack of official orders, they started preparing to resume operations. Passenger surveys also conclusively proved that travellers want berth linen, and science has conclusively proved that linen does not spread the coronavirus.

And now, another blow has struck. During the ongoing Winter session of Parliament, Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnav stated, “As part of the precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, the service of the linen and blanket has been withdrawn by the Railways as a precautionary measure. With the Covid-19 pandemic still there in the country, Railways decided to maintain this precautionary measure.”

Back to square one. 

What is the fate of those bedsheets and pillow covers that have remained unused and unwashed for so long? Does the linen management process need to change? If and when Railways permits line supply, can the BOOT laundry model continue on terms agreed upon before the pandemic? How should the entire process be reengineered to make sure that even if the pandemic has further waves, the supply of passenger linen need never be interrupted again? Mrigank Warrier, Assistant Editor, Clean India Journal asked laundry service providers for answers.  

Bringing linen back to life 

If stored improperly, linen may be damaged even without use. What should be done with the stored railway linen? Kavita Bhatia of Fabcare Pvt Ltd said: “In monsoon months, black spots (fungal growth) may develop if linen isn’t stored in a moisture-free environment. Before being used again, each lot of linen should go through oxy bleach or peroxide treatment, and only then go for normal washing. This will disinfect linen, remove some oxidation spots and whiteness will be restored.”

Steam boilers can help remove black spots, but if a sheet has too many, it should be condemned. When should this be done? Venkata Raj L A of Lindström said, “Discarding linen depends upon the tensile strength and condition of the linen.”

If the linen has been improperly stored, Akash Dharamsey of ADD Laundry Concepts recommends:

  •       First wash the linen and let it undergo the entire washing process
  •       While passing it through the flatwork ironer, the linen should be inspected for any tears or stubborn stains and be separated as per the damage.
  •       Torn linen will have to be discarded
  •       Eventually, hidden damages will surface on linen, which should be discarded and replaced with new linen.

He noted: “Since most of the linen is outsourced to laundry contractors, the penalty on such agencies should not be levied in case of damages, till linen has been completely replaced”.

Should the laundry process change?

Sudhir Batra of Mercury Dry Cleaners disagreed. “The Railways had worked hard on the washing SOP even before the pandemic. Tenders were awarded only to those who could implement this SOP. When linen is washed with detergent at 80°C, and is pressed at over 100°C, there is no need for any further treatment.”

Dharamsey concurred with him, saying: “I have not seen major changes in the laundry process, as the process at almost every stage includes imparting heat to the linen, which disinfects it. The only change required may be adding of bacteriostats at the end of the wash process to minimise growth of pathogens.”

Venkata Raj reminded us: “Only a validated washing program against microorganisms should be used, with professional chemicals. Automated chemical dosing is a must to achieve consistent results”.

Other measures suggested were:

  •       No dusting of soiled linen; regular disinfection of containers used; wearing of gloves, masks and protective eyewear.
  •       Soluble laundry bags can be used, so that there is no human contact from the collection area till the loading of the washing   machine.
  •       No overlap of workflow between soiled and clean linen areas.
  •       The clean area should be regularly disinfected and kept clean at all times. At the end of each day, laundry should be disinfected and well-ventilated. Closed loop air circulation should be avoided where possible.

Packing process

Ideally, clean linen must be packed such that there is no external contact until it is delivered to the end-user. Bhatia shared: “There are many plants that have automated processes which make this possible. Linen should be packed properly to prevent moisture entry, and vacuum-packed if possible”.

New conditions, old costs?

Batra was unequivocal when he said: “With the new focus on hygiene and sanitisation, our rates, which were always competitive, will need to go up.”

So where have the costs increased? According to Dharamsey, “The use of soluble bags, bacteriostats, high temperature, additional protocol procedures and safety gear for laundry workers have all driven up costs.” Bhatia added: “The cost of packaging has also gone up, as has the dosage of chemicals required”.

If even retail laundries are dealing with a 25-30% increase in overall costs, imagine the effect on railway BOOT laundry operators. Clearly, the railway linen management model needs an overhaul. Operators have been cash-strapped and bleeding for almost two years; the Railways needs to understand their problems, examine their new processes and recalibrate agreements accordingly.

The Special Railway-Laundry Meet scheduled during the Laundrex India Expo will set the standards required for BOOT laundries and service providers to process railway laundry and restore the confidence of the commuters and the railways at large. On behalf of Laundrex India, we invite all service providers to connect with us to be a part of the session.

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