THE region's main rail operator says it will run more than 60 per cent of its normal service when strike action hits next week.

Members of the RMT union are due to stage 48-hours' of industrial action next Wednesday and Thursday on South Western Railways (SWR).

The union called the strike after it claimed it failed to secure guarantees from SWR over the future of guards.

The union has been embroiled in a dispute with Southern Rail over the safety of driver-only trains for more than 18 months, taking more than 30 days of strike action.

The dispute has since spread to Merseyrail, Arriva Rail North and Greater Anglia.

SWR has targeted for a strike for the first time after being accused by the union of refusing to give a “cast iron guarantee” that a second, safety-critical member of staff, will be retained on trains.

However, the company, which over the franchise from South West Rains in August, says it has repeatedly assured RMT of plans to keep guards on board trains

The strike will affect services on Wednesday and Thursday but SWR say it has contingency plans in place to run as many services as possible. There will also be rail replacement bus services on some routes to help passengers.

Andy Mellors, managing director for SWR, said: “We plan to run around two thirds of our regular timetabled services which will deliver around 70 per cent of the seats we normally provide across the morning and evening peak hours in to London.

“However, we are sorry that many of our passengers will find trains much busier than normal and that, in some places, replacement bus services will run instead of trains on the strike date called by the RMT."

Mr Mellors labelled the strike as "unnecessary"

"We have repeatedly assured the RMT that we plan to keep two safety-trained employees on our trains. This is because we know that a second member of staff provides assurance to our passengers and ensures we have capable colleagues on board to deliver assistance or offer advice during journeys.

“No one will lose their job. We have been very clear that we are guaranteeing the jobs, salaries and terms and conditions of Guards. In fact, as we expand our fleet, we will be hiring more Drivers and Guards to help deliver more and better services for passengers.”

Details of which services will be affected next week can be found at SWR's website.