Darrois Villey Maillot Brochier partner Henri Savoie discusses his role advising SNCF Réseau as one of the concessionaires on the development of the CDG Express railway with Laura Mendes

How long have you worked with SNCF Réseau? How did you establish this relationship?

SNCF Réseau is the railway network company who we have been working for more than 10 years. We started working for them on a major concession matter between Tours and Bordeaux named SEA, granted to Vinci. And we continue to work for SNCF Réseau on this concession advising on a claim launched by SPV.

How did you win this mandate?

We won the CDG express mandate because of our previous work with SNCF Réseau.

Does the firm have dedicated industry sector team to handle projects such as this?

We are quite a small law firm with about 80 lawyers focusing mainly in the M&A and litigation areas, with some additional practices like public law.
We do not have a dedicated infrastructure team. The public law team is composed of five lawyers, we sometimes handle infrastructure deals together with the M&A team when the matter is related to M&A activity.
We had three lawyers dedicated to the CDG Express matter. I dedicated about 20% of my time to this project while counsel Jean-Baptiste Aubert dedicated about 75& to 100% of his time to the matter with the help of an associate. The M&A team was also involved in this deal to structure the SPV.

Was there anything unusual or complex about the structure of the deal?

It was a complex deal within the public sector. The French state is granting the concession to a SPV and the shareholders are three are public entities: French airport company ADP, financial public entity Caisse des dépôts et consignations and SNCF Réseau.
It was very complex to negotiate with the French state since they had various aims. They wanted something not very costly and that could be built rapidly. It was a situation where the state was in a position to decide.
In addition, we had to deal with more than 25 contracts and there was a lot of legal difficulties but something that it is usual in an infrastructure deal. The complexity of the deal is related to the fact that it is within the public sector.

What were the biggest challenges you faced during the project?

The biggest challenge we had to face was to understand and defend SNCF Réseau’s interest in connection with the public interest, this was an element of the negotiation that had to be taken into account.

There have been reports about delays in the French press. How has this affected the project?

It is right that there is a controversy between the state and the president of the region due to the timing of the concession contract being postponed. What is envisaged is that there will be a delay on the entry of the service date of the new train. There is a risk it will not be ready before the Olympics but this is not confirmed yet. If this happens it will probably have a legal impact, with modifications to the concession contract.

Is the firm currently working on any other projects for SNCF Réseau?

We continue to work for them on the SEA concession between Tours and Bordeaux because of a claim of VINCI against SNCF Réseau. This was one of the biggest concessions in Europe in 2010.

Looking at the French infrastructure market, what have been the main deal trends in the last 12 months?

Two points must be highlighted. First of all there are not many big projects like the CDG Express one. The only other big infrastructure project we are aware of at the moment is the new metro line called the Grand Paris.

Secondly there has been a significant number of M&A deals related to infrastructure, especially related to the telecoms sector. Probably nowadays there is more M&A deals directly connected to infrastructure than new infrastructure projects.