The Gatwick Express train company is scrapping its middle-of-the-night services between Gatwick and London.

The hourly service, operating both ways in the small hours, will end from Sunday.

There will be no trains between 1.30am and 4.30am and then the four-an-hour service will start an hour later from London and 15 minutes later from Gatwick.

A company spokesman said: "We were normally averaging about ten passengers a train on our middle-of-the-night services and this dropped even further after September 11.

"We have decided to stop the all-night trains for now but we shall continue to review the situation."

The news comes as rail chiefs promised local train services would be safeguarded under proposed timetable changes.

A strategic rail authority spokesman said yesterday: "There is potential in the timetable to squeeze in extra services, particularly in the South East. It's not about cutting one type of service at the expense of another. It's about trying to run more services."

Meanwhile, train services were hit today as thousands of workers went on strike over pay.

South West Train's services, which run from Brighton to Reading via Chichester and Basingstoke, were halted, forcing hundreds of commuters to make alternative travel plans.

The 48-hour strike began at midnight after last minute talks with the Rail Maritime and Transport Union broke down last night.

Another 48-hour strike is planned for Monday and Tuesday, threatening further disruption as children return to school after the Christmas break.

South West Trains runs six trains Monday to Friday out of Brighton through West Sussex to Reading.