Management & Operations

Keeping Your Transit Floors Safe and Stylish

Posted on August 13, 2007 by Kristen Minogue, Assistant Editor

In the stampede to get to and from work, riders trample the floors of buses and railcars five days a week, 52 weeks a year. Although they may not always watch where they’re going, it’s a fair bet that most of them do not spend the ride staring at their shoes. The majority of them will probably never notice the floor.

However, at 8:15 on a Monday morning, the last thing any transit manager wants to worry about is whether the floor can withstand the pressure of high-heeled shoes and spilled coffee. Knowing which flooring design works best for your rolling stock can spare your staff a massive maintenance headache at the end of rush hour.

Keeping your footing
Transit systems need to be prepared for all kinds of emergencies. In the world of 21st century mass transit, anything from an open fire to a concealed bomb is considered fair game. But the No. 1 safety hazard flooring manufacturers have to work against is rather commonplace — slips and falls.

Koroseal constructs mats with ribbed and textured surfaces, which provide more slip resistance than a smooth floor. The granite-textured matting has a rough, nubbed surface that enhances traction, ensuring that riders don’t lose their footing as the vehicle comes to a stop. The company’s Eagle Flec Stardust design uses randomly spaced metallic flakes for the same purpose.

RCA Rubber uses a double-groove rib design on its floors. In addition to increasing traction, the double grooves make it easier for water to drain away, preventing puddles from forming in the aisles.

Altro Transflor uses a completely different strategy. Instead of altering the texture of the surface, it blends a colored quartz aggregate into the material. The silicon carbide and aluminum oxide molecules provide an extra grip to the passengers’ feet as they step onboard.

Slip resistance became a major issue for transit agencies in 1992, when the government passed the Americans with Disabilities Act. The law was intended to protect passengers, but the government inadvertently threw a bone to manufacturers as well.

“It’s actually helped us grow our business because of the restrictions that have been applied to slippery systems on flooring,” says Dan Lee of Altro Transflor. “They actually mandate a standard for slip.”

Of course, keeping the passengers’ feet attached to the floor isn’t enough. In order to prevent an injury, designers also have to make sure the floor stays attached to the bottom surface.

All three companies’ products are also impervious to water, ensuring that liquids cannot seep between the matting and the subfloor.

RCA Rubber sands the underside of its Transit-Flor PGF products, giving the matting a stronger bond to metal, wood or composite floors.

Koroseal bonds its products to the floor with a plasticizer-resistant adhesive, which can be applied via spray, trowel or, for more demanding projects, a power roller.

The durability factor
Buses are full of awkward nooks and crannies between the seats, making installation a delicate process. Most of the time, it requires more than just laying down one piece of matting and sealing it to the floor. When it comes to piecing it all together, every designer has a different technique for making sure its products don’t come apart at the seams.

RCA Rubber recently introduced a clear epoxy seam filler for use between the smooth flooring beneath the seats and the ribbed flooring in the aisles. Like the flooring itself, it is completely impervious to water and other dangerous chemicals, and it has a 15-minute cure time.

Altro Transflor uses a process called heat-welding to hold its products together. “Most vehicles take numerous pieces to apply up the walls and on the floors and wheel wells,” says Lee. “We have a machine that actually heat-fuses all the seams together to make them waterproof.”

Koroseal’s seamless one-piece flooring joins the ribbed and smooth sections before installation. The connecting joints meet the same abrasion and slip-resistant standards as the rest of the floor, and the entire product withstands damage from ozone and ultraviolet rays.

Heavy foot traffic poses the biggest threat to a floor’s durability. The standard rib designs offered by RCA Rubber and Koroseal provide some protection against the daily grind. Altro Transflor’s products come in three thicknesses — 1.8, 2.2 and 2.7 millimeter — to deal with light, moderate or heavy traffic. All three come in the same colors and styles, enabling a fleet to look uniform even when the vehicles are carrying different cargo.

For skeptical customers, the warranties offer plenty of flex time to test these products. Altro Transflor warranties can go as long as 15 years, according to Lee. Don Bullock of RCA Rubber says its 1/8-inch smooth and 3/16-inch ribbed floors have 12-year warranties, although they frequently last the lifetime of the vehicle.

Selecting the best product
Choosing the right material for bus or railcar floors can be just as controversial as the design. Every surface type has its pros and cons, and every company has a different philosophy on which type makes for a better product.

Altro Transflor uses vinyl for its popular Meta and Chroma lines, including the new Chroma Windmill. Introduced in March, Chroma Windmill has exactly the same components as Altro’s other Chroma products, with one aesthetic difference: a windmill pattern sketched onto the surface of the floor.

Altro designed Tungsten, its newest product line, exclusively for rail applications with an acrylic “chlorine-free” material. According to Lee, Altro spent seven years developing the Tungsten product to meet the strict rail requirements in the U.S. for fire and other toxic hazards.

“The U.S. has very unique standards for floor covering and rail applications,” Lee says. “They’re much more stringent than for the bus industry.”

Tungsten first emerged onto the market in January. The finished product meets the federal requirements for fire resistance, toxicity, low smoke and low burn rates.

RCA Rubber prides itself on the uniform composition of its materials. Unlike some floors, which have a thin surface covering that can easily chip or rub off, RCA Rubber floors are homogenous throughout their entire thickness. According to Bullock, this keeps the floor looking attractive even after years of wear and tear.

With regard to the material itself, Bullock still believes rubber has the upper hand over vinyl, especially in terms of dimensional stability. “Vinyl has a tendency to expand and contract with temperature variances, creating an issue with seam integrity,” he says.

The dirty work
After a floor has passed all the tests for slip resistance, fire resistance, durability and cohesion, one critical factor remains: post-rush hour cleanup. Staff must be prepared to deal with everything from cappuccino stains to the obstinate black streaks left by high-heeled business shoes. A low-maintenance floor saves time, money and elbow grease.

Altro Transflor puts all of its products through a patented process called Easyclean Technology. The procedure occurs during manufacturing and ensures that the floor is easy to maintain, while preserving a high level of slip resistance.

Altro Transflor products also come with a built-in bacteriostat to prevent the growth of harmful microorganisms. “You can’t always get everything off the floor, so it creates kind of a hygienic surface,” says Lee. And because the bacteriostat is evenly distributed throughout the entire product, it never wears off. As Lee describes it, “It’s part of the compound.”

Basic maintenance for RCA Rubber products requires only non-ionic detergent, bleach and a mop. RCA has a list of suggestions on its Website for trickier stains. Formula 409 or De-Solv-It will take care of most of them, although rare occasions may call for hairspray or white toothpaste.

The finishing touches
Smart designers treat aesthetics as more than a secondary concern. In addition to acting as warning systems, the color and pattern on the floors and walls can set the tone for the entire vehicle.

Altro Transflor offers 11 plain color patterns for its Meta line and 10 multichip color patterns for its Chroma line, in addition to regular red and yellow, Altro’s “safety colors.” The new Chroma Windmill design currently has four color blends. Appropriately, they are all named after storm systems.

RCA Rubber recently introduced four new color blends, bringing its grand total to 38. The designs come in granite, terrazzo and marbled patterns. The only solid color in the entire inventory is black.

Koroseal offers seven colors for its smooth and ribbed floors, and three different black and multicolored patterns for its textured floors. However, it also offers to color-match any pattern presented. All three manufacturers allow consumers to custom-design their own flooring system.

At the end of the day, most passengers will probably not notice if the floor has a multichip or matte finish. After all, at 8:15 a.m. on a Monday morning, most riders have other things on their minds. But a safe, durable, easily maintained floor system has at least one benefit that everyone can appreciate — one less thing to worry about.

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