Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said South Western Railway's poor performance and slow revenue growth are behind financial statements which suggest the franchise is "not sustainable" long term.

In a written statement to Parliament on Tuesday, Mr Shapps said: "South Western Railway's (SWR's) recent financial statements have indicated that the franchise is not sustainable in the long term. Poor operational performance, combined with slower revenue growth, has led to the financial performance of SWR to be significantly below expectation since the franchise commenced in August 2017."

He added that while SWR had not yet failed to meet their financial commitments, the Department for Transport had asked SWR's owners FirstGroup and MTR and the Operator of Last Resort for proposals on "contingency measures".

Mr Shapps said: "This will not impact on the railway's day-to-day operations. The business will continue to operate as usual with no material impact on SWR services or staff."

An independent review of the railways is currently being led by Keith Williams, who has said the current form of franchising cannot continue.

"Modernisation of the railways must come with reciprocal modernisation of the way the railway is operated," said Mr Shapps. "Passengers on SWR have already suffered significant disruption from industrial action by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), and this week the RMT are balloting for further strikes.

"These strikes are not about safety, accessibility or helping passengers. Driver controlled trains are perfectly safe, and have been operated elsewhere on the network for many years. These trains allow the guards to devote much more time to looking after passengers, which is of great benefit to those who need help with travel, like the disabled and the aged. This modernisation is essential if the future needs of this railway are to be met.

"Whoever operates SWR services, I will remain committed to modernising services and improving support for passengers.

"The railway is a public service. People rely upon it to support their way of life, livelihoods, education and healthcare, and it is why this government has committed to introducing minimum service levels during times of strike action