THE REGION'S rail services could be run by a publicly-owned operator after the franchise owners admitted they have entered into talks with the government about ending their contract early.

South Western Railway, owned by First MTR South Western Trains Ltd, announced post-tax losses of £136.9m this week, and say that they could terminate their contract within the next 12 months.

The franchise provides services between London Waterloo and Weymouth, Portsmouth, Exeter, Bristol and Reading, as well as commuter lines in south-west London.

It has been hit by large-scale industrial action since taking over from South West Trains two and a half years ago, including 27 days last month.

The RMT Union, which called on members to strike, has previously said that it wanted SWR to be stripped of its franchise.

General Secretary, Mick Cash, said: “Rather than allowing South Western Railway to collapse into chaos RMT is demanding that the existing operator is stripped of the franchise with the public sector taking over as soon as possible. The alternative is Britain’s biggest rail franchise crashing into the buffers with dire consequences for passengers and staff alike.

“This comes the day after the new Managing Director of SWR, Mark Hopwood, openly threatened to sack hundreds of RMT guards and hire in a new army of staff who will bend to his demands on compromising safety.

“Instead of threatening our members the SWR company should be packing their things, clearing their desks and making way for a public operator putting safety and services first.”

However, a spokesperson for SWR said: “SWR’s recent performance has been affected by issues including infrastructure reliability, timetabling delays and industrial action.

“We continue to be in ongoing and constructive discussions with the DfT regarding potential commercial and contractual remedies for the franchise and what happens next, in order to ensure we reach the right outcome for the Government, our shareholders and our customers.

“As set out previously, FirstGroup and MTR have already provided for the maximum unavoidable loss.”

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