Train drivers have voted to reject a deal that their union, ASLEF, had agreed with Southern Rail to end the long-running dispute.
Both sides had been engaged in lengthy talks in an attempt to reach agreement over changes Southern Rail wish to make to staffing levels on board some train services.
The row has triggered a series of strikes which have caused misery for thousands of commuters over several months.
ASLEF has claimed that Southern’s plans to alter the role of on-board guards would lead to safety issues, particularly the decision to pass control for opening and closing train doors to drivers.
The two sides eventually struck a deal which would have allowed Southern to run trains without a second member of staff on board under certain circumstances.
But the proposed resolution, which was agreed between the two parties at the beginning of February, had to be ratified by members.
It has been defeated by 54.1%.
Some 45.9% of members supported the deal, with almost 73% of union members turning out to vote in the ballot.
Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, said: “We understand and support the decision arrived at democratically by our members and will now work to deliver a resolution in line with their expectations.”
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union are still in dispute with the rail company over changes to the role of conductors and are scheduled to hold a 24-hour strike next Wednesday after talks between the two parties broke down.
Responding to the ASLEF ballot, Nick Brown, chief operating officer of Southern’s parent company, said: “Naturally we’re saddened and hugely disappointed, as will be our passengers, with today’s decision by drivers, particularly as the agreement carried the full support and recommendation of the ASLEF leadership.
“We now need to understand the issues which led to this outcome and we’ll be seeking to meet with the union as soon as possible to see how we can agree a way forward.”
Ⓒ Clare Downey – Sky News Business Reporter