MTR Corp is aggressively pursuing new business in Britain, Sweden, Holland, Germany and Italy, says its head of European operations. 'We'll look across Europe wherever there are opportunities,' Jeremy Long, a long-time British rail industry executive who joined MTR on May 2, told reporters yesterday. The Hong Kong operator has its eyes on potentially lucrative contracts to run Europe's rapidly privatising railway systems, as well as to provide Octopus-card style ticketing services. The announcement by Mr Long, who will be based in London, comes after Britain's rail authority last month named MTR in a short list of five bidders for a franchise deal to operate the expansive Thameslink/Great Northern network. The network links London to Brighton in the south and Cambridge in the north. MTR's bid is a 50-50 joint venture with John Laing, a large infrastructure investor. The winning bidder, expected to be announced by the end of the year, will assume operational control of the trains and stations, as well as responsibility for managing and training staff. The Thameslink deal - for up to 10 years starting on April 1 next year - marks MTR's second attempt to enter the British rail market. In November last year, the company made it on to a short list of contenders vying to run commuter and high speed train services on the Integrated Kent Franchise in the southeast. The bid was made through a 29 per cent stake in a joint venture with Great North Eastern Railway. That contract is also expected to be awarded by the end of the year. While MTR continues to commit increasingly large amounts of capital to build projects on the mainland, such as Line 4 of the Beijing Metro, chasing operating contracts for European networks would provide the company with steady returns on relatively small investments, Mr Long said. 'It provides a balance.' If successful, MTR will attempt to increase passenger flows on the British lines by improving train reliability, now about 90 per cent compared with more than 99 per cent in Hong Kong. The company would also explore differential pricing as well as launching revamped marketing campaigns. Mr Long confirmed MTR was also in the pre-bidding stages for forthcoming operating contracts in Sweden and Germany, introducing Octopus-style 'contactless' ticketing in Holland and exploring undisclosed opportunities in Italy.