It is difficult to imagine a major station today that doesn’t include several escalators. Since they were first installed at Earls Court Underground station in 1911, they have become the prime mover when it comes to getting large numbers of passengers between the various levels of our stations.

However, the tragic fire at Kings Cross in 1987 exposed many faults in their design and maintenance. Not only were the escalators there wooden in construction but over eight tonnes of waste material and general detritus (called “fluff” in the official enquiry report) was found in the well beneath them.

Wooden escalators were quickly replaced throughout the underground system and, more widely, they all now tend to be a mixture of aluminium and stainless steel, greatly reducing fire risk. The number of manufacturers has also reduced over time with Otis (USA), Schindler (Switzerland), Kone (Finland), Mitsubishi (Japan) and ThyssenKrupp (Germany) being the main players today. All strive to manufacturer safe and reliable products.

Hazardous waste

The lesson of keeping escalators clean was also learned from Kings Cross. Allowing combustible waste materials to gather is an obvious danger, whilst dirt, spills and small stones from passengers’ shoes not only look unsightly but their abrasive properties can damage the mechanism.

So it is important to keep escalators clean. Until now, that has been easier said than done. Both the treads and risers have to be attended to on a regular basis. Excess solvent and cleaner cannot be allowed to penetrate the internal workings and all this on an endless band of which less than half is exposed at any one time.

The result has been teams of cleaners armed with brushes, cloths and vacuums. Now an innovative British company has combined all those into one portable machine. The company is Rosemor International based in Oxfordshire and the machine is the Rotomac 360.

One step at a time

The escalator still has to be stationary but the Rotomac 360 will simultaneously clean one step and the riser above it in less than a minute. A small amount of citrus-based low-foaming chemical cleaner is sprayed onto the surface and counter-rotating soft brushes agitate that fluid into the dirt between the treads on the steps. The resultant suspension is then automatically vacuumed away.

Rosemor’s machine, weighing 170kg, is easily operated by one person. Between cleaning cycles it ‘walks’ up the staircase, leaving a strip of clean steps and risers behind it. The Rotomac 360 is built to clean the narrowest of escalators so most that are conventionally-sized take two passes to clean – one strip on the right and another to the left. Once all the visible steps are clean it’s simply a question of starting the escalator until the remaining dirty steps are exposed and going through the process again. Then the machine is loaded into its transportation trolley and pushed off to the next escalator that needs attention.

Rosemor has been successful in selling the Rotomac 360 to operators of railway stations, airport and shopping centres around the world. Here, its machines are currently operating at Victoria, London Bridge, St Pancras, Gatwick, Reading, Birmingham New Street and Liverpool’s metro stations.

On the move

Building on this success, Rosemor has since released an enhanced version – the Rotofast 560. This uses the same technology to clean both escalators and travelators but can be used on escalators while they are moving, speeding up the process still further. With two 1.5kW motors, it has the power to remove the deepest grime while ensuring that no excess solvent remains behind to cause complications.

Rosemor’s Managing Director Efi Rosen is justifiably proud of his product. “We have designed a system that doesn’t just rely on line of sight to clean, but cleans up and down and horizontally. It’s safe and it’s fast” he asserts. “We know that public demand for hygiene and comfort continues to rise. Grime and dirt are bad for business, bad for safety and maintenance. Our Rotomac 360 and Rotofast 560 clean-machines are designed to help railway cleaning staff work far more effectively.”

It’s good to see a British designed and built machine that is getting so much good reaction from international customers.