Bidders close in on Trainline as rail travel sees surge in demand

A SERIES of private equity houses including Bridgepoint and Blackstone are considering a bid for ticket agency thetrainline.com.

The bookings website, currently owned by British buyout firm Exponent, is up for sale with first-round bids expected to be in by later this month.

It could go for up to £400m after environmental concerns and record high petrol prices triggered a surge in demand for rail travel in recent years.

Annual journeys on the rail network have reached more than 1.4bn, the highest for a peacetime year since the 1920s.

Exponent was close to engaging advisers from Rothschild to sell Trainline in late 2010, according to speculation, although it never confirmed its intentions.

The website was set up in 1999 and was bought by Exponent from Richard Branson’s Virgin for £163m in July 2006.

London-based Exponent also owns bed retailer Dreams and vegetarian foods brand Quorn.

Yesterday Exponent, Bridgepoint and Blackstone declined to comment.