Freightliner bidders choosy

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BRITISH RAIL has attracted only one bidder prepared to buy the whole of its loss-making container operation, Freightliners, one of the first BR businesses due to be privatised.

Although three bidders have been shortlisted, only the one from the management buy- out team led by David Rutherford and Bill Shiplee, both formerly with Railfreight Distribution, includes the 45 locomotives specified in the tender document.

The other two bidders, Project Freightliners - a consortium of P & O, Russell Davies and the Port of Felixstowe - and Freightliners 2000, supported by Canadian Pacific Railways, are interested in buying only the business, not the locomotives. This has worried BR managers, who feel that the outside bidders could transfer the business from rail to road after the purchase. One senior source said he feared the customer list could be the most attractive asset.

The sale has been repeatedly delayed while the two outside bidders have sought clarification on the terms of the sale since they first lodged their interest in July. The three bidders were told on Friday that they had been shortlisted and are now being given more information to let them decide whether to go ahead.

Freightliners has 1,500 staff and last year lost pounds 38m on turnover of pounds 113m, moving about 500,000 containers, mainly from inland depots to Southampton, Tilbury, the Isle of Grain, Felixstowe and Liverpool.