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05May94 UK: QUICK SALE FOR BR DESIGN UNITS.

By Mark Court.British Rail has been given just three months to prepare its civil engineering design offices for sale to the private sector.The Government is pressing BR for a quick sale to show an early success in the privatisation of the railways.But contractors fear undue haste to sell the design offices may confuse the privatisation of BR's various design and works departments.The PSA-style sell-off is set to attract interest from contractors and consultants eager for a slice of the lucrative rail market.Buying up a design office would allow a contractor to cash in on railway maintenance and infrastructure work worth around £1 billion a year in total.But contractors are worried by the timing of the sale. Infrastructure companies are not due to be sold for at least 18 months and their sale may be spread over several months.Maurice Webb, director of industry at the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors, said: 'One of the dangers is that contractors won't want the design facility without an infrastructure company.'BR's civil design offices are based in Glasgow, York, Birmingham, Swindon and Croydon.Each employs around 200 staff, giving a total turnover estimated at £30 million.But Mr Webb warned: 'It could be difficult to decide what the real value of the companies is. There may have to be a warranty, guarantee or even money available to make them saleable.'The design offices will each be sold with a guaranteed workload of up to two years.And, although BR has yet to settle the market valuation, sources suggest a zero or negative value with the winning contractor or consultant possibly receiving money.This is similar to the sell-off of the PSA, where firms, including Tarmac and W S Atkins, were given substantial payments to take on PSA divisions.The design office staff have highly specialised skills in the design of rail structures, trackwork, permanent way and associated building services. CONSTRUCTION NEWS