It is, at the moment, a common sight on German railways: empty tracks as far as the eye can see. The Union of German Train Drivers (GDL) are on strike until next Sunday. Almost all goods and passenger rail services will be disrupted for a week as a result. Although, of course, we must be thankful that it is “only” the train drivers who are on strike – and not the textiles.
“Without textiles and nonwovens, there would be virtually no trains unless passengers wanted to sit on bare metal”, said Eike Eberle, Vice President of Sioen Coated Fabrics, Shanghai, a company that produces sheet materials and fabrics from synthetic fibres for covering stadiums as well as for the tarpaulins on heavy goods vehicles and goods trains. According to Eberle, Sioen also, however, supplies material to companies who manufacture the seat covers and wall coverings for trains, so that no passenger inside the train has to sit on bare metal, or lean against the bare wall in an overcrowded train (in spite of seat reservations – how does THAT actually come about?).
There is a similar story at the Finnish company Ahlstrom, which produces fibreglass nonwovens on a grand scale – said to be hundreds of millions of square metres of fabric a year. This fabric goes to equip cinemas, amongst other things, because fibreglass nonwovens are pretty well fireproof and absorb sound just as well, it appears, as many strike-hardened members of German Railways currently do, when talking to their customers. And indeed, the company, whose headquarters are in Helsinki, send out their fibre nonwovens to rail and carriage fitters all over the world. They not only upholster the seats and cover the floor and luggage racks with it, they also use it, amongst other things, to make the covers for the noses of high-speed trains (see photo).
So – as we wait in silence on the platform, we come to the realisation that, even if the overwhelming majority of the trains in Germany are currently at a standstill because of the train drivers’ strike, they wouldn’t even have got going in the first place, if it weren’t for the existence of textiles. And then, suddenly, it arrives – that one emergency train, and everybody gets in – those who were supposed to travel on the last train, those booked in for the next train and…… ah well … at least there is a textile fabric on the carriage wall to make it softer….