Branson books £131m profit on Trainline sale

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The Independent Online

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group pocketed more than £131m yesterday after selling its online train ticket booking business, Trainline, to the private equity group Exponent for £163m.

Virgin owned 80.5 per cent of Trainline, National Express 14 per cent and Stagecoach the rest.

Last month, Virgin confirmed long-standing speculation that it was looking at either selling or floating the business. The investment banks ABN Amro and Investec examined a flotation, an option stymied by the recent turmoil in global equity markets.

Meanwhile, the corporate finance boutique New Boathouse Capital conducted an auction among more than a dozen private equity groups. It had been hoped that Trainline would fetch up to £200m after a flurry of internet companies, including the property website Rightmove.com, commanded impressive valuations at sale or on flotation. Difficult markets have seen valuations scaled back for companies in play.

Sir Richard said yesterday: "We are delighted that Trainline has gone to such a good home. We nurtured the business through the dotcom boom and crash and always had confidence that it would play its part in the internet ticketing revolution that is now taking place."

Founded in 1999 by Alan Tomlin, its chief executive, Trainline now operates retail websites for 16 of the 21 train operating companies. In the year to the end of March, it sold £400m of train tickets. It is the second business sold by Sir Richard in as many months.

In May, he sold a near-50 per cent stake in the record label V2 to the American investment bank Morgan Stanley to defuse a potential conflict of interest as the biggest shareholder in the cable company NTL, which is planning to launch a music TV channel.

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