Trainline Gets Bank On Board For £400m Float
The owner of Britain's biggest online rail booking operation is accelerating towards a debut on the stock market after hiring bankers to prepare a £400m flotation.
Sky News understands that Exponent, a private equity firm, has appointed Morgan Stanley to oversee a potential listing, which would come in spite of disappointment over the performance of technology listings in London so far this year.
Companies including AO World, a digital channel for white goods sales, and Just Eat, an online takeaway service, attracted strong demand ahead of their listings but both have traded down since going public.
Exponent has held a controlling stake in Trainline since 2006.
The timing of a flotation is uncertain and an outright sale to another investor is a possibility, sources said.
Trainline's recent performance has been strong, and Exponent is understood to believe it possesses a sufficiently visible growth profile to reassure prospective investors.
It made around £9m in profit in the year to March 2013, despite having to pay £2m in fees to advisers who led an unsuccessful sale process.
The business, which handles ticket sales for the majority of UK rail operating companies, added two million customers in the year to March and has seen its digital app downloaded more than six million times since its launch.
The company also said that its site was the most popular travel app on iPhone and Android devices.
In an attempt to drive the shift to mobile usage of its site, Trainline reshuffled its top management earlier this month, recruiting Clare Gilmartin, a former eBay manager, as its new chief executive.
Murray Hennessy became deputy chairman following Ms Gilmartin's appointment.
Established in 1999, Trainline was bought by Exponent for about £160m from a consortium which included Virgin, Stagecoach and National Express.
A previous attempt to sell the business in 2012 collapsed when bidders including Priceline.com, the US-based bookings site, and a Canadian pension fund declined to meet the owner's asking price.
Exponent subsequently paid itself a multimillion pound dividend from Trainline as part of a £190m refinancing.
The company faced a sudden loss of revenue in 2012 when the Department for Transport (DfT) decided to strip Virgin Trains of the West Coast mainline franchise and award it to FirstGroup.
However, that decision was overturned after embarrassing flaws in the bidding process were exposed, triggering an overhaul of the entire rail franchising system.
Last week, Virgin won a further two-year extension to run the line, one of the UK's most lucrative, prompting Sir Richard Branson to pledge to bid again for the next licence period.
As well as its own website, Trainline's runs digital sales operations for the majority of train operating companies and has expanded overseas, serving major companies and travel agents as clients.
Exponent declined to comment.