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Hopes for a decisive step to end a year’s industrial disruption on Southern Rail were dealt a blow on Monday when drivers on the service rejected an agreement to extend driver-only operation for a second time.

The drivers, members of the Aslef union, voted against the agreement by a margin of 52 per cent to 48 per cent, almost exactly the same proportion by which they rejected a previous deal to end the long-running dispute in February.

The result opens up the possibility of fresh strikes by Aslef members on Southern. The union halted nearly all services for the 300,000 commuters who use Southern daily during six days of strikes late last year and early this year. However, the union’s leadership may also seek fresh concessions from management at Govia Thameslink, Southern’s parent, given the narrow margin of the defeat.

There was no immediate formal statement from Aslef on its next steps, beyond the announcement of the results.

However, the RMT, the union that represents Southern’s on-board supervisors, responded to the Aslef ballot result by attacking managers, saying they could not “jam their heads in the sand any longer”. RMT members — who were known as conductors until a change of contract on January 1 — have staged 30 days of strikes on Southern over the past year and are due to stage a new day of strike action on Saturday.

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