This enabled the company to report a post-tax profit increase of £441m to £754m.

Group finance director Mr Patrick Butcher says that the company is making "clear and steady progress" towards the efficiency targets set out in the current funding period that runs from 2009 to 2014. However, he wants to see more improvements in punctuality.

"We agree with the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) that we have more to do, especially for the long-distance sector," Butcher says."By continuing to invest in greater capacity and connectivity - as the government command paper recommends - we will be able to meet the challenge of further increases in passenger and freight traffic."