However, track owner Network Rail admitted it was responsible for six in ten delays, such as those caused by cable theft, trespassers and vandals, and bad weather.
Figures for the year to last Saturday recorded that CrossCountry, which uses the east coast main line and includes the longest journeys in Britain, was the worst performer, with 44.9 per cent of trains arriving within a minute of schedule, which has fallen by 0.3 percentage points since August.
Next worst was Virgin Trains, which runs on the west coast main line, with 47.3 per cent on time, which is down 0.1 percentage points since last month.
East Coast’s punctuality fell by 1.9 percentage points to 56 per cent, while ScotRail’s figure worsened by 0.2 percentage points to 57.9 per cent.
Watchdog body Passenger Focus last week stressed the greater importance to travellers of such “right time” figures than traditional punctuality measures, which class a train as being on time if it arrives up to five or ten minutes late, depending on the length of journey.
Chief executive Anthony Smith told a rail conference in Edinburgh: “Nought to five minutes late - passengers do not think that’s on time.”
He urged train operators to “be honest” with passengers, but said right-time figures should not necessarily be targets.
He said: “We can cope with the truth. If you are not 100 per cent, just tell us why - just give people access to information.”
Network Rail said factors outside its control such as weather, trespass and vandalism and cable theft, made up one in five delays overall, and one in three of those for which it was responsible.
However, over the last month it was responsible for seven in ten delays affecting East Coast trains, which included three major overhead wire faults in England, and suicides.
A spokesman said: “Network Rail would like to apologise to East Coast’s customers for the disruption caused by these infrastructure failures and the company is redoubling its efforts to improve the reliability of this critical piece of railway infrastructure.”
The firm said Britain’s 24,000 total daily trains was more than in most European countries, including France and Italy, and more than in Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Portugal and Norway combined.
A spokesman for CrossCountry said: “We recognise that any delay causes inconvenience to our customers. CrossCountry causes around only 10 per cent of the time our trains are delayed, so our efforts are mainly focused on working with Network Rail and other industry partners to deliver a more reliable railway.
“We operate the longest and most diverse network of any passenger train operator, including Britain’s longest rail journey from Aberdeen to Penzance at 772 miles.
“Given the distances travelled, junctions and stations traversed and interaction with the services of other passenger and freight operators, it is unfortunately inevitable that our trains can be exposed to delay.”
A Virgin Trains spokesman said: “Judging punctuality on the basis of a delay as low as 61 seconds on a train journey of several hours is utterly meaningless. Our passengers are realistic about what constitutes a meaningful delay.
“We have been pushing Network Rail very hard to improve performance.”