LAING O'ROURKE is believed to be leading the chase to buy Mowlem's £60 million-rated Australian rail engineering and building arm.
Mowlem's new owner, Carillion, has been looking to dispose of the Barclay Mowlem operation since it took over the parent company for £313 million last month.
Australian giant Lend Lease has been reported as being interested in Barclay Mowlem.
But Construction News understands Laing O'Rourke is the favoured buyer and is set to start a due diligence period before completing the acquisition.
One source close to the talks said: 'There have been a few firms interested and Carillion's bankers were keen to hold a beauty contest between them to drive up the price.
'But Ray O'Rourke went directly to Carillion's directors and is now in the driving seat.
'He will be carrying out a five-week due diligence period to look at the books and then a deal will be struck. The company is being touted around at between £60 and £80 million, which seems reasonable.' It is believed O'Rourke negotiated a deal with Carillion to have first option on any future sell-offs when it bought M&E outfit Crown House from the firm for £17.3 million in 2004.
The previous year O'Rourke bought Carillion's Expanded Piling division for £6.3 million.
The source said: 'O'Rourke already operates in Australia and this deal would fit in with its strategy of expanding at home and abroad.'
Construction News first revealed in January that Barclay Mowlem was on the market.
The firm specialises in the building, civil engineering and rail markets and employs 2,000 people in 16 offices around the Asia-Pacific region.
Barclay Mowlem turned over more than £400 m illion last year.
The source said: 'This should be another major move for O'Rourke and it shows the company is always on the lookout for new opportunities.' Carillion declined to comment.