The owner of Trainline is quietly sounding out potential buyers of the digital transport booking platform even as it continues to make tracks towards a public listing valuing it at well over £1bn.
Sky News has learnt that KKR, the buyout giant which has owned Trainline since 2015, has approached private equity groups including Cinven in recent weeks to gauge their appetite for a takeover of the business.
City sources said on Wednesday that KKR remained focused on pursuing an initial public offering of the business, adding that Barclays and Numis Securities had been appointed to work on the listing alongside JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley.
Unless a bidder appears with a knockout price for Trainline, KKR intends to launch a flotation of the business during the summer, they added.
Cinven, which owns travel-related businesses such as Hotelbeds, is not thought to be interested in a takeover bid for Trainline.
KKR believes the company to be worth well over £1bn based on its expansion prospects, according to a person close to it.
The rail and coach ticket booking business, which is growing rapidly both in the UK and overseas, is in the process of recruiting an experienced chairman who can steer it onto the public markets, insiders said.
If successfully completed, a public offering of Trainline shares would come four-and-a-half years after an attempt to list the company was abandoned in favour of its sale to KKR.
Under the stewardship of Clare Gilmartin, the former eBay executive who was brought in to run Trainline in 2014, it has consolidated its position as Britain’s biggest travel booking app while expanding its sales to customers in well over 150 countries.
The plan to list Trainline would come during a fallow period for big IPOs of British businesses in London, with investor sentiment dented by ongoing Brexit uncertainty.
A £1bn flotation of Trainline would hand big windfalls to KKR, a former owner of Boots The Chemist, and the company’s management team.
KKR paid roughly £500m for the business, since when it has expanded significantly in international markets as well as growing its UK market share.
Going public would nevertheless come at a time of significant scrutiny of Britain’s rail network, with Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, under legal and political pressure over the industry’s franchising system.
The proliferation of fares across Britain’s rail network has frequently infuriated passengers but has benefited Trainline, which saw sales jump in 2017 to £2.4bn.
The company was previously owned by Exponent Private Equity.
Trainline declined to comment beyond an earlier statement saying: “Trainline is an exciting tech business with a great future ahead of it, and it is our mission to make rail and coach travel easier for customers everywhere.
“We have expanded our business across Europe, now operating in 40+ countries, and are very focused on our plans to grow the business further.
“We have no fixed sale plans at this time.”