Rail operator to exploit its expertise in station development as it seeks opportunities around the Tube and in North London MTR Corp is working to export its property development expertise to Britain, where it wants to help municipal and national rail operators build and operate station facilities. According to Jeremy Long, London-based chief executive of MTR's European businesses, the Hong Kong rail operator is exploring development opportunities around three Tube and train stations in West End Lane, an area in affluent West Hampstead in North London. The three stations are clustered together but serve different rail networks in an area crisscrossed by railway tracks. 'The stations are in close proximity and the railway land around them has not been developed, at least not to any standard,' Mr Long said in an interview with the South China Morning Post. 'We are looking at the possibility of creating an integral retail concourse. This would be a large retail, residential and transport interchange. It is at an early stage and it requires piecing together of quite a site.' Mr Long cautioned that project planning was at a very early stage and would require approval from Network Rail, the company that owns all of Britain's railway tracks and associated infrastructure such as signals, tunnels, bridges, level crossings and most stations. Transport For London - the agency responsible for the city's transport systems - including Tube lines, buses, trams and ferries - would also need to sign off on the project. The commercial potential of rail station developments in Britain could be far greater than in Hong Kong where there are just about 50 MTR stations. London's Tube, the world's oldest and largest subway system, has 275 stations. Nor are the possibilities limited to London. Network Rail is looking at the possibility of opening up its 2,500 train stations across the country to development. Britain privatised its rail industry in the mid-1990s, farming out passenger services to dozens of private companies. Station leases along a particular route are typically awarded to the relevant train operator, who narrowly focused on train services such as ticketing. But that could change. '[Network Rail] is beginning to think about offering eight or 10 stations along a line or route, some of which would have real development potential,' Mr Long said, adding that the authority might allow train operators to collaborate with third-party developers such as MTR to build and manage residential and retail facilities at the stations. 'This is something that is at a very early stage in Network Rail's thinking but we're keen to progress,' he said. 'We're obviously not seeking here in the UK and Europe to invest on the scale that one has seen in Hong Kong and now in China. But where we're able to use our expertise, perhaps with development partners or property investment partners and also certainly with local partners, we might well offer our experience in developing around railways.' With regards to rail operations, MTR has submitted two joint bids for rail franchises in southern England and another in Sweden. It is bidding in partnership with Chiltern Railways for the Integrated Kent Franchise, which includes the South Eastern lines as well as new high-speed domestic commuter services to the Channel Tunnel. MTR has a 29 per cent share in the bid, the contract for which will begin next April and run for seven years. MTR has also put in a 50:50 bid with Chiltern Railways on the Thameslink franchise - a line of 50 stations running south from Bedford through London to Brighton. In Sweden, it is proposing to run the Pendelt?g commuter rail system in co-operation with the operator of Stockholm's airport express train. According to Mr Long, decisions on all three bids are expected by the end of the year. MTR is also gearing up for another British tender in southwest England. 'We intend to apply to bid on South West Trains,' Mr Long said. The lengthy prequalification bid process, which involves detailed submissions in areas ranging from operating experience to fleet knowledge, began last week. If allowed to proceed to the final bidding stage, MTR will do so jointly with a British company. South West Trains' rail franchise encompasses four main lines extending from southwest Greater London to Surrey, Hampshire, Dorset and Wiltshire counties. The current franchise, held by Stagecoach Group, expires in 2007. To date, the results of Britain's railway privatisation have been mixed, with passengers on some routes complaining of higher fares and poor service. The national rail system has also been plagued by a series of deadly accidents. In one case in 2003, the government fired Connex of France, citing poor financial controls, and reassumed control of its South Eastern Trains franchise. MTR embarked on an aggressive overseas expansion after Chow Chung-kong took over as chief executive in 2003. It has successfully sold its unique business model, where development profits along a line are used to subsidise rail operations, to the Beijing and Shenzhen municipal governments.