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Will you select the best service in the Railtrack offer? By Justin Urquhart-Stewart

With the Railtrack marketing now in full flow, we have the opportunity to wander down an imaginary high street with more than 110 Share Shops authorised by the Government to provide us with a range of services linked to the Railtrack offer. But with such a choice how do you select the right one?

There are two sections to the offer; the UK public offer (UKPO) and the retail tender offer (RTO). The main difference between them is the amount of shares you want to acquire.

Under the UKPO, if you register with a Share Shop you will obtain a greater preference in the share allocation if the offer is oversubscribed. You will also have the choice of receiving either a 15p per share discount on the second instalment (up to a maximum of pounds 120) or a loyalty bonus of up to 80 shares if they are held for three years, before you have to commit to buying any shares. The minimum size of application will be 200 shares and the first of the two instalments at 190p a share will be pounds 380.

Under the RTO you can take part in the international offer and this is designed to give you a higher allocation of shares, but you will not receive any of the discounts or incentives. However, if you state that you want to put your allocation of shares into a PEP then you will receive a higher preference over other RTO applicants. The application size for the RTO is likely to be higher - perhaps over pounds 1,000. So depending on how much you want to invest you can choose either or both sections.

Not all Share Shops offer the same services. An easy way to compare is to send for a free booklet from ProShare (send SAE with 29p stamp to Share Shop Booklet, ProShare, PO Box 640, London).

Under UKPO many Share Shops will offer PEP and nominee services in addition to their dealing services. These will vary in quality, price and features. My own checklist includes:

do they have the right services linked together?;

have I heard of them and do they have a good reputation?

has anyone I know used them before?

who are they regulated by?

can I deal by phone before I receive my share certificates?

how can I access them?

You are allowed to register with as many Share Shops as you like, but you can only purchase shares in the UKPO through one. The offer is likely to be most attractive for investors. By registering with a Share Shop you can maximise your entitlement, and then you can decide later whether you want to apply.

The author is business planning director at Barclays Stockbrokers.