Network Rail sells $2 billion property portfolio to fund railway improvements

(Reuters) - Britain's Network Rail NETRAH.UL agreed to sell its commercial property portfolio to property outsourcing firm Telereal Trillium and a Blackstone Group BX.N affiliate for 1.46 billion pounds as it pushes for further improvement of its railways.

Network Rail, the owner and infrastructure manager of most of the rail network in Britain, said the sale consisted of about 5,200 properties, the majority of which are converted railway arches.

The divestment comes as the state-backed rail infrastructure company looks to improve London’s much-maligned commuter rail lines, which have come under severe pressure from regulators and lawmakers for its poor management.

Network Rail, which said last November it would sell the commercial property portfolio, said the proceeds from the deal will help fund the railway upgrade plan, “bringing major improvements for passengers and reducing the need for taxpayers to fund the railway.”

Telereal and Blackstone Property Partners, the U.S. private equity firm’s real estate investment unit, will hold equal stakes and intend to be long-term owners of the estate.

Telereal Trillium, owned by the Pears family and headquartered in central London, have managed real estate occupied by local and central government departments, including Royal Mail, the Department of Work and Pensions, and private sector occupiers such as BT BT.L, Aviva AV.L and Royal Bank of Scotland RBS.L.

“Telereal will oversee the day-to-day property management of the portfolio,” the company added.

For Blackstone, real estate has long overtaken private equity as its most high-profile and lucrative business, and the company now has the world’s biggest private real estate investment business.

In March, U.S. investment bank Goldman Sachs GS.N and British medical charity Wellcome Trust [WELLTF.UL] said it made a joint bid to buy the property portfolio of Network Rail, which Sky News reported was at 1.2 billion pounds.

Reporting by Justin George Varghese in Bengaluru; Editing by David Goodman and Hugh Lawson