JOHN Laing is bidding to become a train operator after rail privatisation in a dramatic move away from its core business in construction.
It is hoping to win the franchise to run trains on the Chiltern Line in a joint venture with3i, the lines management and venture capital firm .
The joint venture is named M40 Trains to highlight the transport corridor shared with the M40 motorway.
Laings decision to bid for a purely operational contract comes after a string of successes in the governments Private Finance Initiative (PFI).
Analyst Mike Foster at broker Greig Middleton said: What Laing is trying to do is develop into a very good operator.
It is making a play over five to 10 years to operate its own and other peoples assets.
The Chiltern Line runs from Londons Marylebone station through Buckinghamshire and up to the West Midlands.
It terminates at Birminghams Snow Hill station, which is also the terminus of the Midland Metro, the light rail scheme being built and run by Laing and Italian engineering firm Ansaldo.
Laing and the Chiltern Line management are looking at the possibilities of integrating the two services.
Laing already operates the Birmingham Eurohub airport and it hopes to extend its influence to the transport corridors privately financed road infrastructure.
Its UK Highways consortium with Tarmac is on the shortlist for a design build finance operate widening scheme on the M40 motorway.
Laing director Richard Weston said his firms track record of winning privately financed projects would provide a key ingredient to the M40 Trains bid.
He said: 'What we have is the experience of bidding for and winning PFI projects. Construction is only a part of PFI. Usually theres also a long- term operation requirement.'
Laings latest moves comes after a run of success with the PFI.
It is already receiving payments from European Passenger Services for the use of Ashford station on the route to the Channel Tunnel.
The Second Severn Crossing opens to traffic in the summer and work started recently on the Midland Metro. Laing has also just been named preferred bidder for the privately financed Norfolk and Norwich hospital.
A rival contractor commented: It upsets me to say this, but Laing is quietly leading the field in privately financed projects.
I know them well. I used to work there and Ive got a lot of respect for what theyre doing.