I thank my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes for securing the debate. It is timely, and I am fortunate enough to have a few more minutes than I expected in which to make some remarks.
The performance of South Western Railway is of ongoing concern in Guildford. It causes people frustrations and at times considerable anger. My constituents are not asking for an exceptional service, although they pay fairly exceptional fares. They would rather settle for a reasonable service; that would be sufficient. However, like my right hon. Friend, I want to praise the staff at the stations and on the trains. Many of them do an excellent job, often with no more information than the passengers, and sometimes in very difficult circumstances. I also want to associate myself with my right hon. Friend’s comments about those travelling with disabilities, who face even more harrowing journeys. I am pleased to see that there is some more seating at Guildford station, but that took a long time to achieve.
Late trains, missed stops, overcrowding—I have previously got into some trouble with my comments about my rail journeys on Twitter, and where I have ended up sitting. The Minister is nodding; he will possibly remember this. In particular, I commented on the fact that the seats designed for three people were adequate only if all three of the people occupying them had average-sized bottoms. If anyone has a more than average-sized bottom, they do not really work for three people.
The overcrowding is really shocking. When a train is late and there have been last-minute platform changes so that people have to rush to another platform and then find themselves sitting on the floor, or squashed almost on to someone’s lap, that is not acceptable. Insufficient information is probably one of the things that turn frustration into real anger. People do not know what is happening. There are a number of options for those living in Guildford—they can get out at Woking and share a taxi—but they may not know that the train will not start again for half an hour, or that they will have to change trains. Further problems are high fares and the fact that not enough ticket offices are open at peak times.
Lastly, I must say a word about the Solum redevelopment of Guildford station. I will not take too much time. The redevelopment of the station is welcomed by everybody. Everybody wants the station redeveloped. It is being done under the umbrella of Solum—an association between Kier and Network Rail, but nobody likes the plans that have been passed by the borough council. I believe that they went through on appeal. It is extraordinary that when the development was in its planning stages, the website did not at any time mention trains. It was simply about the station.
Constituents of mine are suspicious. They see it as an opportunity to increase revenue. There would be a fantastic opportunity at Guildford station if the plans were moved by simply 3 feet. That would allow sufficient resilience in the service. If something went wrong there would be a platform 0 that could be used. I urge the Minister—as I have urged Ministers before and urged Network Rail—and urge Kier to look at this. I know why they are nervous about reopening this planning application, but we will throw a party for Network Rail and Kier in Guildford near the station if they will be reasonable and reconsider this plan.
The Minister is looking hopeful, so I look forward to being able to invite him to that party. I have had numerous meetings with South Western Railway and Network Rail, and on every occasion they are nothing but helpful. They assure me that services are getting better and they explain the problems, but we are at the end of our tether. Ministers must act. The high fares that people in Guildford pay are acceptable only if there is a reasonable service.