More than four out of five railway passengers are satisfied with their journey, but there are wide variations between routes, according to a new study today.

Passenger Focus said a survey of 31,000 rail travellers said 84% were satisfied with their journey, the highest figure since the annual survey started in 1999.

The highest ratings for passenger satisfaction were achieved by Wrexham & Shropshire - 96% - which announced today that it is ending its services.

The lowest ratings were given to First Capital Connect (76%), National Express East Anglia (79%) and Southeastern (80%).

Union leaders said the key finding of the study was that fewer than half of all passengers believe they are getting value for money from their ticket.

Passenger Focus chief executive Anthony Smith said: "Passengers continue to describe the vast majority of their train journeys as either satisfactory or good. However, breaking the National Passenger Survey results down by routes marks a huge step forward in accountability and transparency.

"Passengers can now get a much better idea of how their train services compare to others run by their company as well as those across Great Britain.

"The rail industry should be congratulated for agreeing to take this step. We can now move forward to discuss how the industry's main punctuality figure, the Public Performance Measure, can also be broken down into routes which will help give passengers a much richer picture of how their services compare."

Passenger Focus said value-for-money scores were up 4% after the fares freeze last January, showing the "positive effect" of limiting regulated fare rises.

The proportion of passengers satisfied with value for money for the price of their ticket was 49%, up by 4% over the year, with 68% saying they were satisfied with the amount of room to sit or stand.

Michael Roberts, chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies, said: "Record levels of passenger satisfaction reflect train operators' commitment to providing the high-quality services that passengers expect and deserve.

"The survey shows there have been recognisable improvements in a whole range of areas, from the helpfulness of staff, to how comfortable and safe passengers feel when travelling by train.

"None of the national indicators have gone down, which is a testament to the hard work of train operators and their staff in providing an ever-improved service. But train companies are not complacent and will continue to focus on giving passengers what they want, especially in areas where satisfaction is lower.

"The significant improvement in the survey score on value for money is particularly welcome and is a sign that passengers have been responding well to the good-value deals which operators make available."

Gerry Doherty, leader of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, said: "The key statistic is that fewer than half of all passengers believe they are getting value for money from their ticket.

"This is hardly surprising when we have the most expensive rail fares in Europe, a situation that will worsen over the next four years with fares rising annually 3% above inflation because of Government cuts."

Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: "With the rug being pulled from Wrexham & Shropshire, this shows conclusively that performance counts for nothing on our railways. All that matters is fat company profits, regardless of quality of services and rip-off fare increases.

"These figures reinforce the case against privatisation and for public ownership."

Anna Walker, chairman of the Office of Rail Regulation, said: "Through Passenger Focus' latest National Passenger Survey, passengers have once again told the rail industry that they are generally satisfied with their experience of the railways.

"With 84% passengers saying they are satisfied with their journey - and some really encouraging improvements in the helpfulness of staff of trains and passenger comfort - these results are welcome.

"However, more remains to be done as 16% of passengers remain unconvinced or disappointed.

"The lowest score was how train companies dealt with delays. We are working with the rail industry on this issue - it is clear a real difference must be made."

Passengers commuting to cities in the north of England spoke out about their overcrowded peak-hour trains in the survey, Passenger Focus added.

The independent passenger watchdog's latest research revealed only two out of five passengers travelling to Manchester's Oxford Road station are satisfied with room on the train. Scores plummeted to 28% satisfaction for the journey home.

Satisfaction with room to sit or stand for morning commuters travelling into Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool Lime Street is significantly worse than the national average, said the report.

Ashwin Kumar, Passenger Focus rail director, said: "Passengers are seriously dissatisfied with overcrowding into and out of our major cities in the north of England. Anybody who has to commute into these cities knows how bad many of these services can be. Only a few extra carriages would go a long way to alleviating the problem."