MAJOR improvements are set to take place for rail passengers in Bognor Regis.
Train operator Southern Railway is finalising details of a £1.8m revamp of the public transport centre.
Work should begin in May to create a 21st century environment in the historic building.
A waiting room, a new restaurant and a digital creative hub are part of the overall scheme. It will amount to the biggest project at the building for decades.
Paul Best is leading the project for the GTR section of Southern Railway.
He said: “We have devised this project around the priorities of the passengers who took part in our survey at the station. These include somewhere to wait, retail facilities and information.
“At the moment, the station is somewhere you arrive at or leave from and there’s nothing to make you want to stay. We want to make the station more appealing to people.
“Bognor has just over a million passengers a year. Eastbourne, which is a similar size, has four million. That’s four times the footfall but there’s a lot more going on in the Eastbourne station.”
The external work to the station’s facade will see items renewed, repaired and the extensive brickwork cleaned.
“This will enable the station to go back to looking like a nice, respectable building,” said Mr Best.
“Inside the station, we will be replacing the granite-style flooring with a more anti-slip, tile-effect flooring.”
The station bookstall is going to be swapping places with the current ticket office. That will make use of some of the bookstall which was built soon after the station was put up in 1902.
Mr Best said: “We know the bookstall means quite a lot to people who have used it to buy their newspapers for many years.”
The neighbouring taxi office will also move into the current ticket office.
On the opposite, western, side of the concourse the pavilion-style frontage of the cafe will be kept along with the food and drinks business.
The gateline between the concourse and platform will be changed back to its original. “We are going to take down the partition and bring back what was there originally,” Mr Best said. “That was like a wooden picket fence with metal railings in between. Some of the original is still there underneath the partition and we hope to use that.”
A waiting room will be created in the empty room opposite the present ticket office. One of the other empty areas is earmarked for a digital creative hub. Final details are being worked out with the University of Chichester and West Sussex County Council.
Another empty area is destined to become a restaurant which faces out on to the Station Square opened last summer.
“We hope that this will be a place where people come for a meal after they have seen a film at the cinema opposite,” Mr Best said, “or if they want a drink beforehand.”
The station entrance off Longford Road is set to be closed - and used only in emergencies - because it is used by cyclists and others who cause anti-social behaviour on the concourse.
The final designs for the changes are being drawn up. They are set to be put on show in the station soon, and possibly around the town, ready for tenders to be sought early next month.
Work should start in May. It is likely to continue for eight months, with much of the concourse work at nights and weekends, to avoid too much disruption.
The money for the work has come from the government through the Department for Transport’s passenger survey programme.
Nathan’s Cafe operator Keith Moger-Waller said he was happy with the plans.
“The railway company have spoken to us about wanting to keep this as a cafe. But they also want to have a restaurant at the front of the building as well,” he said. “There’s a definite market for a sit down restaurant here as well.”
Mr Moger-Waller has operated the cafe for nearly three years and is on a monthly renewal until the work is finalised.
“The agent for the railway has said it’s not possible for us to have a long lease at the moment so we are staying here on a month-by-month basis until they tell us more information about what they are doing.”
One of his customers, stockbroker David Phillips, said: “This is a lovely cafe. it’s quite quiet and good value. I come in here for a coffee before I catch the train once a week to London.”
Station Bookstall operator Bhavesh Patel has run the business for 11 years.
“I will still be staying here,” he said. “I’m happy to move across the station. I have seen the drawings and it’s going to be nice.”
The station is the town’s third. The first was blown down and the second damaged in a fire.
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