The owners of Trainline, Britain’s biggest rail-booking app, are laying the groundwork for a £1bn sale amid intense criticism directed at train operating companies over the cost and complexity of millions of fares.
Sky News has learnt that KKR, the giant global investment firm, has kicked off talks with potential advisers on an auction more than three years after acquiring Trainline.
Firm decisions have yet to be taken about the timing and structure of a sale process, and people close to KKR said it was unlikely to get underway this year.
It was unclear whether bankers had been formally hired.
A sale of Trainline would hand big windfalls to KKR, a former owner of Boots The Chemist, and Clare Gilmartin, the former eBay executive who was brought in to run the company in 2014.
Under Ms Gilmartin’s stewardship, Trainline has consolidated its position as Britain’s biggest travel booking app while expanding its sales to customers in well over 150 countries.
An auction of the company will spark broad interest from financial investors and technology companies, according to banking sources.
Its timing is likely to come during a period of frenzied debate about the future of the UK rail network, with Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, unveiling a shake-up of the archaic national signalling system.
Mr Grayling has come under attack because of the decision to put the East Coast main line back under state control for the third time in little more than a decade.
That decision was triggered by the termination of a franchise held by a joint venture involving Stagecoach and Virgin Trains after it breached a financial covenant.
The proliferation of fares across Britain’s rail network has benefited Trainline, which saw sales jump last year to £2.4bn.
The company was previously owned by Exponent Private Equity, which sold it to KKR in a deal thought to be worth £450m.
Trainline had been on track for a flotation, which could be an alternative exit route for KKR.
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The buyout giant was reported in previous years to have held talks with potential bidders.
A KKR spokeswoman said it was “fully and solely focused on the growth and success of the company”.