Exponent goes online for rail ticket deal

UK mid market firm Exponent completes fifth deal from its two year old fund with the £163m acquisition of Trainline, a rail ticket information provider and retailer.

Exponent Private Equity, a UK mid-market firm, has bought Trainline, a UK rail ticket retailer and information provider, for £163 million (€238 million; $300 million) from a consortium of shareholders that includes Virgin, Stagecoach and National Express transport groups.

It is Exponent’s fifth deal after a slow start since raising its £400 million fund two years ago.

Trainline was launched in 1999 to sell rail tickets through the internet and call-centres.  The business has expanded in the last seven years, acquiring its rival QJump from National Express Group in 2004.

In addition to its own website, thetrainline.com, it operates retail websites for 16 of the 21 train operating companies as well as providing a rail business travel service direct to a number of corporations and travel agents.

Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, said in a statement: “For some time now the rail industry has been encouraging Virgin and the minority shareholders to divest their interests in the business through either a trade sale or flotation in order to provide it with greater independence from any individual train operator.”

New Boathouse Capital, an advisory boutique, carried out the auction of the group, while Investec and ABN Amro sounded out likely demand for shares if Virgin had opted for an initial public offering  

In the year to March 2006, the company sold some £400 million of train tickets earning revenue of £47.5 million and ebitda of £11.7 million.
The company’s management team is led by Alan Tomlin who founded Trainline in 1999 and became chief executive in 2001. It employs 91 people at its offices in London and Edinburgh and approximately 600 people through its outsource arrangements.