Station wins with market appeal

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Guildford station, winner of the Station of the Year award, is a triumph of functional customer service. Rebuilt six years ago as part of an office redevelopment, it has about as much character as a supermarket.

There is none of the grandeur of stations at York, Bristol Temple Meads or Glasgow Central, merely red brick and the bright blue paintwork favoured by designers of out-of-town shopping malls.

Even the things that used to win Best Kept Station awards - such as painted flower tubs and hanging baskets - are absent, victims of constant vandalism. But the platforms are spotlessly clean. The lavatories have plentiful supplies of both toilet paper AND soap, and there is an atmosphere of formal efficiency.

Operated by South West Trains, one of the British Rail companies to be offered for sale next year, it has platform customer care staff and a permanent cleaning patrol.

Ray Beeson, 59, who has retired after 45 years' service at the station, is in no doubt of the improvement since he started work there in 1950. He said: "It was a shambles. The roof leaked and people used to stand on the platform in pools of water."

There are more than 300 trains a day from Guildford, one of the busiest commuting spots in the South East. It was chosen from among BR's 2,500 stations and judged by members of Rotary International.

Passengers agreed it was clean and tidy. Ian Anderson, 35, a computer engineer, praised the station but was fearful of the future under privatisation. "The tell-tale factor is whether the loos are clean and they seem to be all right here." Amanda Sayers, 28, a retail manager from Woking, was a bit dubious about the extent of customer care. "There never seems to be anybody about," she said.

But Phil Roland and Stephen Milner, designers on their way home to Derby, found one of Guildford's major deficiencies. "Where's the bar?" they asked.