Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) is seeking an injunction from the High Court to enable it to introduce new 12-car trains into service following a boycott by its drivers.
GTR said the ASLEF drivers union had instructed its members not to drive the first two services that were due to operate in 12-car formation in the last 10 days.
ASLEF claims the operator was trying to impose driver-only operation (DOO) on the longer trains without having an agreement in place with its members.
Implementing DOO on the 12-car vehicles, where the driver operates the doors instead of a conductor, would be unsafe, ASLEF believes, and would prevent a risk to passengers.
Over the next couple of months, with the introduction of new Class 387 trains from Bombardier, GTR is planning to extend the length of Gatwick Express services from the current five or 10-car trains to eight or 12-car vehicles.
By June, it hopes to have more than 50 per cent of all Gatwick Express services operating 12-car trains.
A GTR spokesman said: “We launch legal action very reluctantly, but we have been left with no choice because of the position adopted by the ASLEF Union. Drivers have safely operated the doors on Gatwick Express services for many years so passengers will find their refusal to drive the new trains baffling.
“We will take any reasonable steps we can to defend the interests of our customers and maintain the Gatwick Express service with the new 12-car trains, which will increase capacity and reliability and give a more comfortable travelling environment for passengers.”
A hearing is expected to be held at the High Court “in the coming days”, GTR said.
Shortly after this announcement, another rail union, RMT, confirmed that its Southern members had voted in favour of industrial action over what it described as a “wholesale introduction” of DOO on the route.