VIRGIN East Coast has been accused of “blatant profiteering” after increasing ticket prices for the second time this year.

The RMT rail union said more than half of its fares were being increased by an average by 1.4 per cent for travel after September 4.

It also said the travel operator – run as a partnership between Virgin and Stagecoach – was imposing greater restrictions on when passengers could use cheaper, off-peak tickets between Mondays and Thursdays.

The extra restrictions mean the afternoon peak period, when cheaper tickets can’t be used, has been extended.

Fares already went up by 1.1 per cent in January, as part of an annual rise.

On Twitter Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald complained that the operator had deemed that on some journeys the last train before the start of its peak period would now be 3pm.

He said: “This fare hike is blatant profiteering again at passengers’ expense."

A spokesman for Virgin East Coast said: “We have embarked on a £140m investment programme to improve customer experience on the east coast route, completely overhauling our train fleet and recently launching 42 additional services each week between Edinburgh and London.

“We still have lots of great deals available and the changes to our fares structure will make it easier to offer low priced fares on less busy services.”

The RMT is awaiting the result of a strike ballot among its members on Virgin East Coast – expected on Tuesday (August 9) – after accusing bosses of trying to “bulldoze” through cost-cutting measures.

It has warned of plans to close ticket offices and make cuts to on-board train staff and management and supervisory roles in an attempt to maintain profits.

RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: “When the East Coast mainline was run in the public sector it was the most efficient and most popular rail service in the country.

“Reprivatisation has dragged it back down with Virgin/Stagecoach seeing it as nothing more than an opportunity to bleed the travelling public dry."

The Transport Salaried Staffs Association has also joined in criticism of Virgin East Coast and last month warned of possible strike action of its own.

David Sidebottom, a director of watchdog group Passenger Focus, said Virgin East Coast was “levelling down its offer to passengers” with the changes to fares.