WL Gore & Associates has proved itself a valuable partner for The Swiss Federal Railways (SBB), who have discovered that Windstopper Soft Shell provides the perfect workwear solution for both its rail track maintenance workers and ticket collectors.
As a result, SBB has become the first service provider in continental Europe to use the same textile technology for two completely different sectors of activity.
For ten years SBB employees had been wearing workwear that can be best described as functional corporatewear, with ticket collectors and track workers wearing different garments.
However, the new Windstopper Soft Shell jackets have helped do away with this old-fashioned way of thinking and have ushered in a new uniform philosophy.
Controlling the budget
Garment procurement specialists at SBB have always believed in trying to provide their staff with the best possible workwear, recognising that poor-quality clothing can, through tears, washing and abrasion, prove more costly than making a proper investment in good-quality garments.
In fact, within all operational areas SBB’s workwear garments have to meet the most stringent demands imposed on function and appearance. The latter is particularly true for some 5,300 ticket collectors and train servicing personnel who, in their constant contact with the public, represent the face of the company.
Despite the emphasis on employee well being, the procurement department at SBB is also very much driven by cost.
Whenever they introduce a new clothing system, Markus Degen, head of garments and textile purchasing, and his team of experts try to keep the ultimate logistics and financial costs of the garments within set limits, and, where possible, reduce them. It is in this respect that SBB had a second triumph with Windstopper Soft Shell.
By kitting out its ticket collectors and rail track workers with jackets made of the same material, SBB have been able to provide their employees with the ultimate in functional workwear while maintaining a strictly controlled budget.
Until recently, track maintenance workers had worn a high-visibility orange and blue jacket made of a two-ply knitted pile fabric, while the ticket collectors wore a dark blue Windstopper fleece jacket.
However, after many years in service, the non-woven fleece of the ticket collectors' jackets was beginning to show signs of wear caused by abrasion from the shoulder strap on their bags.
Markus decided that something needed to be done. In close interaction with Gore Workwear, a completely new concept emerged. The idea was to find a material that was equally suited to rail track workers and ticket collectors.
A realistic functional solution was soon found: a three-layer Windstopper fabric that satisfied the very different demands of both jobs. The fabric consists of a fine, lightweight, polyester outer layer (soft shell), a Windstopper membrane and a fleece lining.
The polyester outer layer makes the material, known as Windstopper Soft Shell, highly abrasion resistant, water repellent, and at the same time, breathable.
Based on many years of experience, Markus and his team were confident about the performance features of the Windstopper Soft Shell for the ticket collectors. However, they were not so sure about its suitability for the track maintenance workers and so, in 2004, they decided to carry out a six-month field test.
The aim of the test was to demonstrate whether the rail track workers felt better in the jacket they had been wearing until then or in the new Windstopper Soft Shell jacket.
Subsequent questioning revealed that the workers were very happy with their new jackets - all 12 employees involved in the test reported the garments as being both comfortable to wear and breathable.
Of the 12, 11 said that the jacket offered significantly better protection against the wind and they all agreed that it also looked better than their previous uniform.
Tests undertaken by independent laboratories, which had preceded the field test, had already demonstrated that Windstopper Soft Shell laminates outperform jackets made of two-layer knitted pile fabric in terms of wear, windproofness, wash shrinkage and, above all, weight.
Only when it came to thermal insulation was the Windstopper Soft Shell garment not quite up to the standard of its heavier rival.
Best for form and function
Marcus said: "Since our track maintenance workers always work outdoors - and often in the wind - we decided that it was important to have a completely windproof material that offered comfort and protection.
"So, for very cold temperatures, track work workers also have a Gore-Tex weatherproof jacket that can be worn over their Windstopper jacket to give them the ultimate layering system."
"We are fully convinced that this is a great acquisition, although using the same textile technology for ticket collectors and track maintenance workers is unprecedented. The new jackets are quite simply the best in terms of function and appearance."
Currently 3,000 blue jackets have been shipped to customer service staff and 2,000 orange/blue jackets (in compliance with EN471 high-visibility standards) to track maintenance staff. A further 8,000 jackets have been ordered.
The success of the new SBB uniforms has been proven with a survey that shows that 78 percent of employees are either happy or very happy with their new corporate wear - in fact, the jackets are so popular with some employees that some of them are even wearing them outside of work.