Talks aimed at resolving a long-running dispute over the role of conductors on Southern railway have broken down without agreement today (Tuesday 12 October). The chief executive of Southern's owners Govia Thameslink Railway, Charles Horton, met briefly with Mick Cash, leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union in a bid to break the deadlock.

Cash said: "RMT entered talks with Charles Horton this morning in good faith and with every intention of trying to reach an agreement.

"However, it became clear right from the outset that Mr Horton is refusing to stick by the assurances he gave to the media yesterday that he can 'absolutely' guarantee a second member of staff on all current Southern services with a conductor.

"This dispute isn't about who open and closes the doors, it is about that absolute guarantee of a second safety-competent member of staff on these Southern services.

"RMT is angry and frustrated that a golden opportunity to resolve this dispute has been wrecked because Mr Horton has reneged on commitments he has given through the media. Passengers will rightly share our anger. The programme of industrial action goes ahead with the union remaining committed to genuine and meaningful talks."

Horton said he made it "crystal clear" to the union that the company was moving forward to implement its proposals and any agreement had to be on the basis of these principles.

He said: "In the space of a week, we've now met twice for face-to-face talks to try and reach agreement but, incredibly, they have absolutely nothing new to say – today, last week, last month – which helps us move forward.

"They raise everyone's hopes by stating they want to end the dispute, but then dash them by their continued head in the sand position. In its proposals, Southern has guaranteed that every train which has a conductor today will have a conductor or on-board supervisor in the future.

"However, on trains where the driver has full control of the train, if for any reason an on-board supervisor is unavailable, we want the flexibility to still run the train for the benefit of our passengers.

"Now what the RMT is asking us to do if that second person is not available, is to guarantee we'll cancel the train. That is simply not an option. Customers will come first, not the union, and we are not allowing them to maintain the power to control when a train is cancelled."

Southern Railway
Commuters travel on a rush hour Southern rail service to London Bridge London Carl Court/ Getty Images

Horton said Southern was modernising the railway and wanted the driver operating the train with the guaranteed second member of on-board staff looking after customers, not doors.

"My number one priority is to introduce these changes to improve the customer service we give our passengers and, after months of horrendous travel misery, get them where they want to be on our trains, safely and on time.

"There is a full and fair offer on the table that most workers would love to have – a guaranteed job for five years, above-inflation pay increases for the next two years and guaranteed overtime. The union has advised its members to accept the new role and they can be assured this change is happening."

The 72-hour walkout began on Tuesday.