650,000 Sids apply to board Railtrack

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The Railtrack sale to private investors was confirmed as a big success yesterday when the final number of applications passed 650,000, making the issue almost three-times subscribed.

More than pounds 1.4bn of private cash is believed to be chasing the retail part of the pounds 1.95bn sale, which is now certain to be upgraded to around 50 per cent of the issue from the promised minimum of 30 per cent.

With another 100,000 arriving from share shops yesterday, the day after applications closed, Sir George Young, the transport minister, is understood to have reacted with delight to the last minute rush.

The public enthusiasm for the sale is bound to be used by Sir George as ammunition to attack Labour over its long campaign against the privatisation, with threats to treat Railtrack harshly if it gets into power.

Private investors in the retail offer have applied for 389 million shares - an average of more than pounds 2,000 each.

Although the price of the first instalment has been set, the full price of the shares will not be known until at least 24 hours after the international offer to institutions closes this afternoon.

This is already thought to be more than four-times covered, a proportion that will rise if the institutions are scaled down to 50 per cent of the issue. The likeliest day for formal announcement of the price and the allocations is Sunday. The price is likely to be at the top end of the 350p-390p range.

Meanwhile, the financial bookmaker IG Index said it had opened a book on the expected closing price of Railtrack shares after the first day of trading next Monday, and current bets indicated a small premium of 4.5p on the part-paid shares of 200p.