Hopes have been raised that fresh talks will be held in a bid to resolve the long-running dispute over guards on trains on one of the busiest rail franchises in the country which includes the Weymouth-Waterloo line.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union on South Western Railway (SWR) have staged a series of strikes stretching back over two years, which has caused travel misery for passengers.

The latest strikes lasted throughout December and on New Year's Day, leading to cancellations and delays.

Now, new SWR managing director Mark Hopwood has raised the prospect of a fresh move to try to break the deadlock.

In an interview with BBC Radio Surrey on Friday, he said he had been in contact with RMT general secretary Mick Cash and hoped to hold talks.

He insisted the company had compromised its position and was now guaranteeing there will be a guard on all trains.

"If we can get the RMT to move a little bit, I think we can do a deal," he said.

The RMT has just launched a fresh ballot of its members on continuing with industrial action, which it has to do under employment laws, so Mr Hopwood said there is an opportunity to hold talks before the result is known.

But he made it clear that he would not agree a deal which "compromised" the business as the company strives to add more capacity and improve efficiency.

Mr Cash responded: "RMT has been calling for further talks both before and during the recent month-long strike action and we have met with a deafening silence from SWR.

"We now hear through the media that the new SWR boss is prepared to talk but he has made no approach to us.

"I have written to Mark Hopwood today, calling on him to clear his diary and get the talks back under way as a matter of urgency and without preconditions."

SWR later confirmed that it intends to have a meeting with the RMT before its ballot result is announced.