SCOTRAIL has been ordered to make its customers significantly happier after getting its second ministerial warning in seven weeks.

The struggling rail operator has been issued with a “remedial plan notice” after failing to meet contractual targets on passenger satisfaction because of delays and cancellations.

ScotRail now has until May 3 to devise a plan to improve customer satisfaction, and if that plans fail to work, it could be stripped of its contract.

The move follows satisfaction with ScotRail falling to a 16-year low last autumn, with overall satisfaction with rail services in Scotland down to 79 per cent.

ScotRail’s target is a satisfaction level of 88.5% averaged across two surveys per year.

But having managed just 79% in the last survey, it would need to achieve a satisfaction level of 98% in the next one this spring to hit its target.

Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said that was “highly unlikely”, and so ScotRail had to show how it will improve its scores in the National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS).

He said: “These latest NRPS results are unsurprising and clearly linked to the recent poor performance.

“Too often passengers have been left disappointed and this must change swiftly.

“Having already issued one remedial plan notice, it is frustrating that another follows. ScotRail recognises the reasons for this notice and the direct link between train service reliability and customer satisfaction.

"I require quick action to ensure the ongoing record investment in infrastructure, fleets and staff quite rightly translates to better satisfaction levels and a more attractive service.

“Passengers want and deserve a railway which delivers the benefits of more seats and services on a consistently reliable basis.”

If ministers accept ScotRail’s Remedial Plan, it becomes a binding Remedial Agreement.

If ScotRail then fails to deliver on the Remedial Agreement, it constitutes an “event of default”, which allows ministers to strip franchise operator Abellio of its contract.

The intervention comes after Mr Matheson issued a separate remedial notice to ScotRail on Christmas Eve, ordering it to come up with a plan to improve services in and around Edinburgh after excessive cancellations.

The latest remedial notice is potentially more serious as it relates to turning around its performance across the entire rail network in Scotland to improve satisfaction levels.

The 10-year ScotRail franchise was let to Dutch-owned Abellio in 2015, but can be ended early under a break clause that would allow another operator to take over in 2022.

Ministers have said they want a public sector bidder in place to apply to take over ScotRail from 2025, but last year opposed activating the early break clause.

Labour and the Greens both want the clause activated and ScotRail publicly run.

Green MSP John Finnie MSP said: “ScotRail’s performance has gone from bad to worse, with delays, cancellations and overcrowding commonplace.

“The Transport Secretary must explain just how bad performance has to get before he will remove the contract from the abysmal operator Abellio.”

LibDem MSP Mike Rumbles added: "The Transport Secretary is much better at issuing strongly worded letters than he is at fixing our rail service.

“The only warning ScotRail need is this: shape up and start delivering for rail passengers or we will terminate the break clause in your contract at the first opportunity."

ScotRail Head of Customer Operations Phil Campbell said: “We run more than 2,400 services every single weekday, which is more than ever before, and our punctuality has recently reached its highest level since September last year.

“But we know there is much more to do, given the challenges we have faced in recent months. Everyone at Scotland’s Railway is working flat out to deliver the service our customers expect and deserve.

“We will submit a remedial plan to Transport Scotland within the timescale outlined.”

The NRPS provides a UK-wide picture of customers’ satisfaction with rail travel.

Almost 60,000 passengers are asked about their journeys every year.

Customer opinions of services are collected twice yearly with passengers’ overall satisfaction and satisfaction with 41 specific aspects of station and on-board facilities assessed.

In a letter to Holyrood’s Rural Economy Committee, Mr Matheson said ministers had issued the remedial plan notice to protect the interests of passengers.

He said: “Our rationale for serving a remedial plan notification now reflects our commitment to passengers. It is better to serve the notice on the basis that it is likely that ScotRail will not meet the KPI rather than wait that on the next set of results confirming this as this will require ScotRail to prepare and initiate a remedial plan without delay.

“On receipt, Scottish Ministers will consider if they are satisfied with ScotRail’s proposals for securing future compliance with the contract. If satisfied, we will enter into a Remedial Agreement with ScotRail to implement those steps.”