SCOTLAND’s underfire train operator has won back the approval of its passengers - though many still think they are paying too much for tickets.

A major survey of ScotRail customers found nine out of 10 were satisfied with their service, a jump from just 83 per cent last year when the firm was plagued by complaints about delays and crowding.

The improvement meant that ScotRail was ranked eighth out of 26 UK train operating companies by satisfaction, said Passenger Focus, which carried out the study.

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However, the watchdog also found some 39 per cent of passengers who expressed a view thought trains were not value for money.

Rail executives - who last year came under intense political and media scrutiny - latched on to the new numbers as evidence they were performing back at previously high levels.

ScotRail trains have once again also been outperforming English operators subject to the UK-wide same regulatory regime.

Writing in today’s Herald, Alex Hynes, the new managing director of ScotRail, said: “To achieve a satisfaction rating of 90 per cent at a normal time is a remarkable achievement.

“To do so while we are also delivering the largest programme of improvements to our railways since Victorian times makes it even more impressive.

“The improvements we are making will help us to build the best railway Scotland has ever had. The electrification of the Glasgow to Edinburgh route and brand new state of the art trains will mean faster journeys, more seats and better services for customers.”

Mr Hynes also talked of turning ScotRail into “the best railway Scotland has ever had”. It already has record passengers numbers: the number of journeys on ScotRail trains has jumped a third in the last decade.

Anthony Smith, of Passenger Focus, echoed Mr Hynes. He said: “It is good news that after poor results in autumn last year, passengers in Scotland have seen improvements in satisfaction this Spring. After a concerted effort to improve punctuality, ScotRail are now back to their former high scores.

“They fared particularly well with how they dealt with delays – an increase of 11 per cent on spring last year.”

Transport Minister Humza Yousaf attributed the better survey results to improvement schemes he imposed on operators. Scotland’s rail network faced substantial disruption last year, partly as a knock-on effect of investment in new trains and an overhaul to infrastructure at one of the country’s biggest, Glasgow’s Queen Street.

However, punctuality figures and other performance indicators have been improving since a new timetable was introduced last December. ScotRail has stayed in the news with both government and opposition figures both talking of bringing it back in to full public ownership.

Mr Yousaf and the SNP have mooted an effective renationalisation of the service, which is currently delivered by an alliance of private franchisee Abellio and state infrastructure provide Network Rail.

Labour has also talked of renationalisation, though insiders repeatedly warn that more than half of the delays on the lines - and high costs - stem from inefficiencies at Network Rail rather than the private part of the business.

The UK-wide body has come under repeated pressure to reduce its costs from UK and Scottish regulators.

Labour’s transport spokesman, Neil Bibby, repeated calls for a freeze on ticket prices, most of which are set by Scotland’s transport quango rather than ScotRail.

He added: “It’s good to see overall passenger satisfaction increasing after falling to a record 14-year low last autumn. Railway workers should be thanked for their hard work and perseverance in what has been a difficult year for ScotRail. However, passengers will still want to see continued action to tackle overcrowding and improve ScotRail services.”

Green MSP John Finnie also favours renationalisation and lower fares. He said: “Undoubtedly there has been an improvement, but the challenge for ScotRail and the Scottish Government is to ensure that these results become the norm and prove that this survey wasn’t a fluke.”

ScotRail’s 90 per cent satisfaction compared with a worst figure of 72 per cent for Southern Rail but a best of 97 per cent for Hull Trains.