Antitrust Law and Merger Control04.05.2021 Newsletter

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


The European Commission has imposed fines of €48 million on Deutsche Bahn (DB), Austrian Railways (ÖBB) and the National Company of Belgian Railways (SNCB) for cartel agreements in freight transport involving "blocktrains." All three companies have admitted their involvement in the cartel. Customers of the rail companies should check at an early stage whether they are entitled to damage claims for excessive freight costs against the three companies.

Who is affected?

The cartel affected cross-border conventional freight traffic on important rail corridors in the EU in so-called "blocktrains" (official press release here). Blocktrains 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 up or stored in between. Only automobile transportations are said to have been unaffected by the cartel.

What was the subject of the cartel?

The three railroad companies shared information about customer requests. By doing so, the EU Commission found, they provided each other with higher price offers and protected their business. As a result of the cartel-related excessive price offers, the customers of the railroad companies most likely suffered not inconsiderable damage during the cartel period.

Which period is affected?

The cartel affected freight transport orders in "blocktrains" in the period from  8 December 2008 to 30 April 2014. However, SNCB was only involved in the cartel from 15 November 2011 onwards.

Check possible claims for damages

If your company is one of the customers of the three rail companies in the affected period, you should check whether your company is entitled to claims for damages. Managing directors and board members are generally obliged to avert damage to their company. This includes examining possible claims for damages and demanding compensation for losses suffered if this makes economic sense.

This decision generally requires careful consideration, which may take some time. However, claims for damages cannot be asserted indefinitely. They become statute-barred after five years from the date on which knowledge of the cartel was obtained. As a rule, case law affirms knowledge from the issuance of the press release by the antitrust authority, in this case from 20 April 2021. In addition, the claims are subject to a maximum limitation period of ten years from their accrual, which is, however, suspended for the duration of the antitrust proceedings.

First measures to secure your claims

As a first step, measures should be initiated to secure possible claims. This includes first and foremost the securing of relevant (and in particular older) documents such as invoices, order confirmations, delivery bills or e-mail correspondence. Several out-of-court options are available to counter the occurrence of the statute of limitations. One proven means of securing a claim is, for example, the submission of a waiver of the statute of limitations by the opposing party.

We are happy to support you in the processing, assessment and enforcement of potential claims for damages. We have many years of experience in the enforcement of antitrust damage claims and know which strategies for compensating damages are target-oriented - from settlement negotiations to legal assertion to the bundling of claims and litigation financing.




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Dr. Daniel Dohrn

Dr. Daniel Dohrn


Konrad-Adenauer-Ufer 23
50668 Cologne
T +49 221 2091 441
M +49 172 1479758