The winner of the franchise to run Scotland's railway services will have to put reliability and overcrowding at the top of its priority list.
ScotRail's current franchise runs out next March
The two issues are key objectives in the tender documents issued to the four companies vying to take over the franchise from ScotRail, which ends on 31 March 2004.
The four shortlisted firms are Arriva Trains; First Group plc; National Express Group plc (ScotRail) and Serco Rail/Netherlands Railways.
Transport Minister Nicol Stephen said the documents set out "a better deal for Scottish passengers".
The bidding companies will be expected to show how they plan to:
- Improve punctuality, frequency and reliability of services
- Reduce overcrowding on services
- Provide safe and accessible passenger services
- Improve standards of facilities for rail users at stations and on trains.
Further enhancements sought by the Scottish Executive include new services on the re-opened Stirling to Alloa/Kincardine link and the new Larkhall to Milngavie line.
Ministers also want CCTV and customer information systems extended to stations not currently served as well as participation in integrated ticketing schemes.
The franchise can be altered after it has been awarded to take account of developments such as the expansion of Edinburgh Waverley station, rail links to Edinburgh and Glasgow airports, development of the Borders link and the reinstatement of a line between Airdrie and Bathgate.
A preferred bidder is expected to be named early in 2004.
Under the current contract with ScotRail, a six-month extension beyond the end of March can be granted to allow for a new firm to prepare to take over.
The new franchise will run for seven years with a possible extension of three years.
Phil White, chief executive of the National Express Group, said his company would submit a "robust, deliverable and viable" bid.
"Through our track record at ScotRail to date, we have consistently demonstrated our ability to improve services and to respond to customer needs," he stated.
Last week, it emerged that the number of people using ScotRail services had dropped by a rate of 4,100 per day in the year up to 31 March 2003.
ScotRail said the fall had been caused by industrial action by drivers last year.