Loss-making GB Railways in talks with mystery suitors

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The Independent Online

Further consolidation in the rail industry looked likely yesterday after GB Railways, the operator of the Anglia Railways franchise, disclosed that it was in talks which could lead to a bid for the company.

Possible suitors include First Group, which owns three train operating companies, and Skanska, the Norwegian construction group which is already a partner of GB Railways. Industry sources also said that the services group Serco could be interested as well as a number of freight operators.

GB Railways said that it was in "preliminary discussions with a number of parties that could ultimately lead to a bid for, or investment in, the company". But Jeremy Long, the group's chief executive, declined to elaborate on where the approaches had come from or how many he had received.

First Group could be interested because it owns the Great Eastern franchise, which the Government is considering combining with Anglia Railways and National Express's West Anglia to create one super Anglian franchise.

Skanska, meanwhile, has joined forces with GB Railways on the proposed £200m east-west rail link between Cambridge and Oxford and could partner the company on future franchise bids.

Mr Long said continuing problems on the network and the downturn in traffic in the wake of 11 September meant that GB Railways was likely to suffer a pre-tax loss of £2m in the year to 31 March. The group has filed a claim with its insurers for business interruption suffered as a result of the Hatfield rail crash but that is being resisted.

Passenger numbers are down about 2 to 3 per cent since the terrorist attacks having recovered to their pre-Hatfield levels in the weeks before.

Hull Trains, which operates services to London on the east coast mainline, has submitted a 10-year access agreement to the regulator which, if accepted, will enable it to lease a new fleet of 125 mph trains.