Goldman, Macquarie may join £1.5bn UK rail auction

Infrastructure funds are among bidders expected to throw their hats into the ring after High Speed 1, the UK’s only current high-speed rail line, was put up for sale today.

The UK government has launched the sale of the £1.5 billion (€1.8 billion; $2.2 billion) high-speed rail link, known as High Speed 1, which runs from London’s St Pancras International station to the Channel Tunnel.

Among the likely bidders cited in media reports are Macquarie Bank, Goldman Sachs Infrastructure Partners, 3i, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Fund and RREEF. France’s Eurotunnel, which operates the Channel Tunnel, is expected to bid alongside Goldman Sachs, which is its largest shareholder, and fund manager M&G.  

The government has signed off a pre-qualification questionnaire that will vet potential suitors competing for the 30-year concession to operate the 110-kilometre route and its stations at St Pancras and Stratford in London as well as Ebbsfleet and Ashford in Kent.

The government is keen to raise at least £1.5 billion as part of a host of measures to be announced in the budget that will aim to reduce the UK’s fiscal deficit.

In a statement, UK transport secretary Phillip Hammond said: “High Speed 1 is a national success story and a world class railway operating to international standards. The money generated by this sale will make an early significant contribution to the crucial task of reducing the public sector debt.

That’s good news for the taxpayer. But the sale will also bring benefits to passengers as the successful private bidder will be incentivised to attract new operators serving new routes.”

High Speed 1 is currently owned 100 percent by London and Continental Railways, which in turn is owned 100 percent by the UK government’s Department for Transport. The line’s main source of income is the track access charges paid by Eurostar, which runs services between London, the south-east of England, Paris and Brussels. In addition, St Pancras earned more than £10 million last year as a retail outlet.

The Guardian reported that Citibank has been hired as an adviser to the Department for Transport, while UBS is representing London and Continental Railways.