PLANNED walkouts by rail staff in a long-running dispute over guards on trains have been suspended.

Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union members working on South Western Railway (SWR) were due to strike on Friday and on March 9 and 16.

However, the union said there had been a breakthrough in the row which has seen a series of strikes over the last 18 months.

The RMT has claimed SWR has now offered a guarantee of a guard on services that have been in dispute.

Speaking yesterday, RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Today’s offer of a guarantee of a guard on the SWR services in dispute is the substantial progress we have been pushing for and has allowed RMT’s executive to take the decision to suspend the current action to allow further talks to take place with the objective of reaching a final, agreed settlement.”

A South Western Railway spokesman said: “We are pleased for our customers that the RMT has suspended the planned strike action for February 22 and March 9 and 16 to allow talks to take place next week. This means that we will now operate a normal service this Friday.

“We are looking forward to further constructive discussions with the RMT and are hopeful that by building on this breakthrough we can see an end to this industrial action and together build a better railway for our customers.”