Rail freight cartel: European Commission fines DB, ÖBB and SNCB


The European Commission has fined Deutsche Bahn (DB), Austrian Railways (ÖBB) and the Belgian National Railways (SNCB) in fines of 48 million euros for cartel agreements in transport of goods involving “blocktrains”. The three companies have acknowledged their involvement in the cartel. Customers of the railway companies should check at an early stage whether they are entitled to claims for damages for excessive freight costs against the three companies.

Who is affected?

The cartel affected cross-border conventional freight traffic on important EU rail corridors in “blocktrains”. These are freight trains that transport goods from one location (e.g. the production site) to another (e.g. a warehouse of the buyer of the goods) without being split or stored in between. Only automobile transport would not have been affected by the cartel.

What was the subject of the cartel?

The three railroads shared information on customer requests. In doing so, the European Commission found that they were offering each other higher price offers and protecting their business. As a result of the excessive price offers associated with the cartel, customers of the railway companies have most likely suffered significant harm during the period of the cartel.

What period is affected?

The agreement affected orders for the transport of goods in “blocktrains” between December 8, 2008 and April 30, 2014. However, SNCB was not involved in the agreement until November 15, 2011.

Check for possible damage claims

If your company is one of the customers of the three railway companies during the relevant period, you should check whether your company is entitled to any claims for damages. Managing directors and board members are generally required to avoid damage to their business. This includes examining possible claims for damages and claiming compensation for losses suffered if it makes economic sense.

This decision usually requires careful consideration, which can take some time. However, claims for damages cannot be invoked indefinitely. They become prescribed after five years from the date on which knowledge of the agreement was obtained. As a general rule, case law affirms the knowledge of the publication of the press release by the antitrust authority, in this case from April 20, 2021. In addition, claims are subject to a maximum limitation period of ten years to from their incorporation, which is, however, suspended for the duration of the antitrust proceedings.

First steps to secure your complaints

As a first step, steps should be taken to secure possible claims. This primarily includes securing relevant (and in particular older) documents such as invoices, order confirmations, delivery slips or email correspondence. Several out-of-court options are available to counter the appearance of the limitation period. One proven way to secure a claim is, for example, the submission of a waiver of the limitation period by the opposing party.


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