High Speed 1 rail link is put up for auction

BRITAIN yesterday put the rights to operate the country’s high-speed railway connection from London to the Channel Tunnel up for sale.

The sale of the 68-mile High Speed 1 line will be fronted by transport minister Philip Hammond and is aimed at helping to boost public funds.

He said the successful bidder would become the owner of HS1 Ltd, which has a 30-year concession to run the line and stations.

The disposal of the line, currently run by state-owned London and Continental Railways, could fetch £1.5bn, according to experts.

Hammond said: “The money generated by this sale will make an early significant contribution to the crucial task of reducing the public sector debt. But the sale will also bring benefits to passengers as the successful private bidder will be incentivised to attract new operators serving new routes.”

He added: “The gtovernment does not have to run everything directly, we need to take prompt action where private enterprise can provide both a better deal and a superior service to the public.”

The line also serves Stratford in east London and Ebbsfleet and Ashford in Kent. Channel tunnel operator Groupe Eurotunnel is working on a bid with Goldman Sachs Infrastructure Partners, its biggest shareholder, and with Infracapital, the infrastructure arm of Prudential unit M&G, another big shareholder.

The Office of Rail Regulation will assess any proposed deal. Bidders have until 9 July to complete a “pre-qualification questionnaire”.

Other possible bidders could include funds such as 3i Infrastructure and Deutsche Bank’s RREEF unit. HS1 Ltd is being advised by UBS, while the government is being advised by Citigroup.