Southern train driver plans are safe if conditions are met: ORR"/>
Controversial plans by Southern Railway to allow drivers to operate train doors are safe if certain key conditions are in place, the industry regulator has found.
The conclusions were seized upon by the company and the Government but train drivers' union Aslef said the report, which called for a series of improvements, was not a "clean bill of health".
Driver Only Operation is at the centre of the bitter industrial dispute between Southern and rail unions which has caused misery for commuters.
Fresh strikes are due to take place next week and at the end of the month, affecting hundreds of thousands of passengers.
The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has now completed a review of Driver Only Operation.
Ian Prosser, HM Chief Inspector of Railways, said: "ORR is satisfied that with suitable equipment, proper procedures and competent staff in place, it is a safe method of working."
He added that the regulator had also made recommendations for further improvements and that the rail company had accepted and was in the process of implementing them.
The ORR found that some stations did not meet standards for lighting and there were plans to upgrade them.
Elsewhere, action had been taken to ensure stations that suffered from overcrowding were provided with additional staff if the crowds made it difficult for drivers to carry out safety checks.
The regulator also recommended improvements to CCTV used by drivers to carry out checks to ensure that image quality was "consistently high".
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: "This is a powerful report from the independent rail regulator that confirms that Southern's plans for driver-controlled trains are safe."
He said he had written to unions urging them to suspend their "needless strike" and claimed the ORR report should encourage both sides to return to talks.
Charles Horton, chief executive of Southern's parent company Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), welcomed the report.
He said: "Unions must now acknowledge that they have no credible argument that it's an unsafe method of operation."
But Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said: "Despite what Southern Railway is disingenuously claiming, the report does not give driver-only operation a clean bill of health.
"It doesn't say it is safe, merely that it can be safe."
He accused the company of "putting profit before passenger safety".
GTR said that a third of all trains on the UK network now run with a driver in sole control - without the help of a guard in opening and closing doors.
However Aslef said comparisons were not valid as in the Southern area many stations were unmanned, or undermanned.
Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT union, said the report was a "complete whitewash" and proved that the ORR was "no longer fit for purpose".