Southern Rail has offered to hold fresh talks with the biggest rail union in a bid to avert another strike in a long-running dispute over staffing and the role of conductors.

The franchise said it would meet representatives from the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union if it suspends its planned industrial action.

It suggested meeting on Tuesday, April 4, the date set for the next strike by RMT members.

The walkout will be the 31st day the transport union will have taken industrial action over concerns that driver-only-operated trains would not be safe as only one person would oversee all operations.

Southern have refuted the union’s claims.

Read more: Southern Rail aims to run ‘as close to normal service’ during Rail, Maritime and Transport union strike

Charles Horton, chief executive of Southern's owners, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), said the talks would only go ahead if the union called off its action.

In a letter to RMT general secretary, Mick Cash, Mr Horton said: “Our passengers, staff and the regional economy want certainty and an end to your industrial action, not a 24-hour truce.

“It’s disappointing that the RMT are now threatening a 31st day of strike action on April 4. Over the past year, we have met with the RMT countless times to try and settle your dispute. Unfortunately, each time has ended in disappointment.”

The company said the union should go further than calling off the strike and commit to ending its industrial action on Southern to allow for “constructive and goodwill talks aimed at finding a negotiated solution”.

Southern said it ran 90 per cent of its normal service on each of the two RMT strike days and added that over half of conductors and board supervisors had signed on to work.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash responded: “The RMT has made it clear that we are looking for meaningful and constructive talks in respect of both the guards’ and drivers’ disputes on Southern Rail.

“On Friday we made a genuine and positive approach to the company to get that talks process back on track.

“This morning we have received a prompt response from Southern/GTR although we are surprised at the length of the timetable for talks that they are proposing. The company response to the RMT call for talks will now be given serious consideration by the union’s executive committee.”