The 15 per cent rise by Virgin CrossCountry on rides from England to Scotland using Super Saver tickets, which can be used on any day except Fridays and summer Saturdays, will, according to pressure group Save Our Railways, mean the end of affordable, turn-up-and-go train travel.
Scheduled to be introduced in June, the new prices will mean that some tickets which do not allow passengers to travel on a Friday will be more expensive than tickets which do. A spokesman for CrossCountry said: "Some fares are rising by 15 per cent. But many other ticket prices are coming down."
Mr Branson, who took over the running of pounds 100m CrossCountry services last year, has to increase ticket sales by 10 per cent in order to make the line profitable. His business plan is based around airline-style marketing. This means that a number of low-cost tickets have been heavily promoted by the company - but all require passengers to book their journey at least a day early and to specify outbound and return trains.
"The price of tickets which you have to book in advance are falling by 10 per cent. There will always be people who want an open-type ticket and they will have to pay a premium," said a spokesman.
Barry Doe, the transport consultant who uncovered the new pricing regime, claimed that the "days of just taking the first train that turned up are numbered."
The increases are being brought in on all "anglo-Scottish" fares controlled by CrossCountry. This will affect cheap returns to Scotland from Wales, the South West and most of the Midlands and the North West.