UK government lines up Eurostar sale

The divestment of 40% of the train operator is expected to attract pensions and infrastructure funds.

The UK government has announced plans to sell its 40 percent stake in Eurostar, the operator of train services through the Channel Tunnel between England and France.

Infrastructure funds and institutional investors such as pension funds are expected to be among the potential bidders for the stake, which is expected to raise around £300 million (€381 million; $483 million).

It is understood that bids may be submitted as soon as the end of this month, with any eventual sale planned for the first quarter of next year – ahead of the UK general election in May 2015. The Treasury is being advised by UBS and has the right to retain the stake if bids are not considered high enough.

French state-owned railway company SNCF holds 55 percent of Eurostar with the remaining 5 percent held by state-owned Belgian rail firm SNCB. SNCF has indicated it is not interested in the 40 percent stake, but it has the right to buy it at a 15 percent premium at the end of the bidding process.

The sale, which has been opposed by unions, is part of the UK government’s plan to raise £20 billion from asset sales by 2020 in order to bring down national debt.

The sale was proposed in an update to the £375 billion National Infrastructure Plan – which set out the government’s infrastructure plans for the next two decades – in December last year.