Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Is Redhill railway station the most depressing place in the world?

Platform 2, Redhill station
Do you ever feel depressed? Nothing too serious, just a bit down; a bit pissed off? I do and I'm sure we all do at times. For me, there is nothing more depressing than standing on Redhill railway station in Surrey waiting for a train. Invariably, whenever I get there, I find that I have a good 10 minutes to wait before my train arrives – I've either just missed one or there's a delay of some kind. Missing a train is depressing enough, but more depressing still is having to wait on a cold, dreary and unpleasant railway station – and it's not just Redhill. I've noticed two trends of late: one is to tart up some waiting rooms with fake leather sofas and pot plants – Purley Oaks, Purley and Merstham all spring to mind; another trend, however, is to go the other way and offer uncomfortable, uninspiring and depresssing waiting rooms like those on Redhill and East Croydon stations.

But let's stick with Redhill for the moment. The waiting room serving platforms one and two is piss poor. It has glass walls and a few hard, wooden seats – two rows of them – plus glass sliding doors. At the far end there's a service desk where it's possible to ask for travel information, but there's nothing welcoming about the place, especially on a cold day, but even in the height of summer it's not nice.

There's really only two things you can do if you find yourself on Redhill railway station waiting for a train: sit in the dreary, uncomfortable waiting room or walk the length and breadth of the platform until your train arrives. A third option would be to leave the station altogether and walk for five minutes to the Costa Coffee where you can enjoy a cup of tea and a millionaire's shortbread, but that option invariably means you will miss your train. How often have I stood looking at the train times wondering whether there was time to walk to Costa? Many times and the answer is always the same: there's never enough time unless I decide to catch a later train than planned. It all leads to one sorry scenario: waiting, pacing the length and breadth of the platform and longing for the moment when the train arrives and I can settle in to the 15-minute journey to Purley.

There are two travel alternatives open to me. I can take the train from Redhill to Purley, change trains and then ride one stop to Purley Oaks. This way I have a 20-minute walk at the other end. It's not too bad, but it's a longer walk than the one I have to and from Sanderstead station. If I ride from Redhill to Sanderstead I still have to change trains, but instead of Purley I change at East Croydon where I'm greeted with an even more unpleasant waiting room – the one serving platforms five and six. In the morning at least there's a rack full of newspapers. By 1800hrs the rack is bare and while there is a Pumpkin Café – or something of that kind – it's not a proper sit-down establishment with round tables, and it's adjacent to a couple of fruit machines.

If I had any say in the future development of Redhill railway station – should it be on somebody's agenda – I know exactly what I'd do. First, I would get rid of the glass waiting room serving platforms 1 and 2. I would replace it with a cosy railway station café with round wooden tables and chairs, with possibly even a small tea light on each table, and a door with a narrow glass window in the middle with a net curtain concealing the cosy interior from those standing on the platform. There would be an inviting glow from the tea lights to attract passers-by.

As for foodservice, a small menu of home-made cakes, a range of teas, coffee and hot chocolate and possibly, during lunchtimes only, a limited hot food offering of traditional favourites, like cottage and shepherd's pie, chicken stew and so on. I would apply for a liquor licence and offer a small selection of fine wines – for all price points – and, of course, some cask-conditioned bottled ales. In other words, I would go some way towards making Redhill station's catering offer more like the Manningtree Station Buffet.

People would look forward to missing their train and they would enjoy the prospect of visiting Redhill railway station.

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