RMT union members picketed new rail operator South Western Railway on Monday morning, over its failure to guarantee a second member of staff on trains.

But First/MTR, which started its new seven-year franchise on Sunday, has insisted it values the role of the guard and reiterated its pledge to invest more than £1.2billion in the network.

A First Group spokesman told The Herald: “Our plans are to increase the number of services and improve the customer experience on South Western Railway and are looking to create a secure and meaningful environment for our employees to work in.

“We value the role of the guard, which is why we will always plan to retain two people on our services.

“During our franchise, we will increase the number of drivers and guards so that we can deliver more services for our customers.

“We know a second member of staff provides assurance to our passengers on trains and ensures we have capable colleagues on board to deliver assistance during the journey for anyone that needs help or advice while travelling on our trains.

“We will discuss the role of our guards with our staff, and how that role can be enhanced to provide a better service to our customers.

“We are confident employees will be excited by the focus on higher quality services for passengers that we will bring to this franchise. We look forward to engaging with our employees and the trade unions in the coming months.”

Welcoming SWR, Surrey County Council’s cabinet member for transport Mike Goodman said: “With Surrey generating almost £40billion a year for the UK economy and 130,000 residents going into London daily, this network is vital for passengers and businesses here and in the rest of the South East.

“So we look forward to working with First/MTR to ensure the promised extra capacity on better trains is delivered alongside faster journeys.”

The network is in the final throes of a three-week closure of nearly half of Waterloo station’s 24 platforms while the UK’s busiest railway station has new platforms constructed to allow much longer trains on suburban routes into the capital. Work is due to finish on bank holiday Monday in time for Tuesday’s rush-hour.