UNDER-FIRE train operator ScotRail has seen its annual performance figures rises to 90 per cent, with its punctuality the second best in the UK.

Official figures show the figures for on-time trains improving for the third year in a row.

ScotRail has also announced that performance for the four weeks to January 7 is 89.7 per cent, six per cent better than last four weeks and 2.8% better than same period last year.

It remains, however, 0.3 per cent below the benchmark level.

But Scottish Labour said ScotRail was "still not hitting its performance target" and that one train in 10 was failing to arrive within five minutes of the scheduled time.

The details are part of the Moving Annual Average figure, a standard industry measure used across the UK to calculate average train service punctuality over the course of a year.

The operator, which is run by Dutch firm Abellio, has been under attack, particularly from the Labour Party, amid claims of delays, crowded trains and overall passenger dissatisfaction.

There have been calls to strip Abellio of its 10-year franchise arrangement, with Scotland's transport minister Humza Yousaf warning the firm it needed to improve.

Phil Verster, managing director of ScotRail Alliance, the special purpose vehicle running Scotland's railways and involving publicly-owned Network Rail, said the latest figures showed its Improvement Plan was starting to produce results.

He said: "We are achieving this in the middle of the biggest upgrade to our railway since Victorian times.

"We can do more and we can go higher, and every single one of the 7500 people who work on Scotland’s railway is committed to doing just that.

"The sheer scale of the work we are doing to improve the railway has resulted in more disruption than normal. This means that our customers have had to put up with a lot over the past few months.

"We have done everything we can to keep people moving during this unprecedented period. I hope our customers can take some encouragement from the continued improvement.

"Later this year, our modernisation work will start to bear fruit. The introduction of our new faster, longer, greener trains will dramatically increase the number of seats we have available - and will help us to reduce journey times. In the months that follow there will be even more trains, more services and more upgraded stations. That is all good news for passengers."

The operator said the latest period rise was "part of a significant improvement in punctuality over the past four weeks, including the busy Christmas and Hogmanay period.

It added that during the latest period, three significant disruptive events affected services including overhead line issues at Hyndland on Hogmanay and again on 6 January, and disruption caused when a child’s scooter was thrown onto overhead lines at Airdrie.

It said these events had led to a 0.7 per cent reduction in the monthly performance.

Mr Yousaf said: “It is encouraging to note performance has improved compared to the previous period and is above the same period last year by quite some distance. It also continues to be much higher than the GB average.

"I expect to see further improvements over the coming months, although I accept some disruption during the winter weather will be inevitable." 

Scottish Labour transport spokesman Neil Bibby said: “2016 was a year of delays and disruption on Scotland’s railways. This year needs to be a year of change and improvement.

“Humza Yousaf said he expected ScotRail to hit their performance targets by the end of March, yet here we have another set of figures showing contractual targets are still being missed. The clock is ticking for Humza Yousaf and ScotRail.

“Passengers are fed up with delayed, overcrowded and cancelled trains. That’s why Labour called for a fare freeze in 2017, which would benefit every single passenger.”