Consulting engineer WSP is making its first foray into the rail market by bidding to become a framework consultant for Railtrack.
The rail operator is expected to announce 25 to 30 contracts covering planning, building and track maintenance from a shortlist of 50 bids.

WSP chief executive Chris Cole said the bid illustrated the success of the firm's acquisition of Swedish firm J&W last year, which brought with it expertise in rail and tunnelling.

He said: "Before the acquisition we wouldn't have been able to bid for railside work, and J&W wouldn't have looked at this geographical area."

WSP announced on Tuesday that its turnover had increased 63% to £225m for the year to 31 December 2001. This was made up of 10% organic growth and 53% growth by acquisition. Pre-tax profit increased 32% to £11.5m and earnings per share remained unchanged at 15p.

Cole said: "We've realised our ambition to do less than 50% of our business in the UK. We're now an international company, not reliant on any one economy." The company has 40% of its turnover in Britain, 40% in Scandinavia, 15% in the USA and 5% in the rest of Europe.

Cole said: "The Baltic states and eastern Europe are our first target of expansion. The second is the rest of the European Union." He added that J&W will be the base for this expansion.

J&W bought Finnish consulting firm LT-Konsultit last December, and has a 30% stake in Norwegian multidisciplinary firm Multiconsult.

WSP has recently secured work on the Royal Bank of Scotland headquarters in the west of Edinburgh. The 70-acre site will include offices, a conference centre and leisure facilities.