English, Welsh & Scottish Railway (EWS), the UK’s largest rail freight transportation business, is set to be acquired by Apax Partners after the two groups entered into exclusive talks over a £500m deal for the business.
EWS has been on the market since last year when Canadian National Railways (CNR), which is EWS’ largest shareholder with 42 per cent, decided that it wanted to sell its stake in the business. CNR acquired its interest in EWS as part of its e acquisition of American railroad operator Wisconsin Central Transportation Corporation in October 2001.
Apax Partners has beaten off competition from a number of international trade bidders, according to The Sunday Times newspaper, including SNCF, the French rail transport group, and Germany’s Deutsche Bahn. Talks have been ongoing between EWS and Apax during the last six months although the two have only recently entered into exclusive talks.
EWS moves over 100m tonnes of freight per year and runs over 7000 trains each week hauling bulk freight, mail and parcel as well as special passenger trains. The company also carries out train maintenance and driver hire and covers international traffic via the Channel Tunnel.
A spokesperson for EWS declined to comment on reports of a £500m offer for the business, confirming only that the company was in the process of undertaking a strategic review, commenced last September, that was considering all options, including a sale of shares to new shareholders. However, the spokeperson confirmed that CNR was planning to sell its stake.
Apax Partners declined to comment.