Driver-only trains will replace Merseyrail's current rolling stock after city region leaders gave the green light to the £460m project today.

The new trains will be in service by 2020 and will replace the 40-year-old fleet currently operating on the network – one of the oldest in the UK.

Each will be longer and able to carry 60% more passengers. The fleet will be publically owned by Merseytravel.

However, plans to introduce driver-only trains on London's Southern Rail network have sparked a series of strikes and an ongoing dispute between unions and the company.

Unions ASLEF and the RMT say passenger safety is compromised by driver-only operation.

The RMT has already indicated it will refuse to allow its members to drive Merseyrail's new trains.

Mayor of Liverpool and chairman of the combined regional authority Joe Anderson: said: “The people of our City Region need and deserve new trains.

"Merseyrail is one of the top performing networks in the country and we want to keep it that way.

"This is a once in a generation opportunity for custom built trains that will be safer and carry more people, more quickly."

At its meeting earlier today the Merseytravel committee agreed to guarantee continued employment for guards who are currently permanently employed at Merseyrail and wish to remain so.

Reductions in posts are expected to be found through redeployment, voluntary redundancies and retirements over the next four years until the new trains are fully operational.

Committee chairman Cllr Liam Robinson said: “These new trains will be fit-for-the-future, safer and faster and at no additional cost to passengers or council tax payers.

"It is a ‘must do’ project - the benefits are clear.

“That is not to say that we’re not sensitive to the staffing implications of such a decision.

"In an ideal world we’d like to have a second member of staff on every train to ensure the highest level of customer service, but there aren’t the resources to do that.

“Some guards will have the opportunity to be employed in a new on-board customer service role and others will be able to take advantage of other redeployment opportunities, all on the same terms and conditions as now.”