On 15 July 2015, the European Commission imposed fines of up to €49 million on cargo train operators Express Interfracht (Austrian railway incumbent Österreichische Bundesbahnen) and Schenker (German railway incumbent Deutsche Bahn) for operating a cartel in breach of EU antitrust rules. The cartel was operated by these two companies and Kuehne + Nagel (a Swiss group) by fixing prices and allocating customers on the cargo block train services. The block trains are a rail shipping system to transport cargo from one hub to another without wagons being split up or stored on the way. It allows customers to save time and money, especially those with large volumes of cargo to transport. Block trains are economically more efficient than traditional rail cargo transport.
The third company, Kuehne + Nagel, was granted immunity following a leniency application which aims at revealing to the Commission the existence of the cartel. In this case, the block trains named Balkantrain and Soptrain were jointly operated by Kuehne + Nagel, Express Interfracht and Schenker. They covered the routes between Western and Central Europe and Southeast Europe, and Central Europe and Romania. Following the Kuehne + Nagel leniency application, the Commission discovered several restrictive practices:
- the companies concerned agreed and allocated existing and new customers and set up a customer allocation scheme, which included a notification system for new customers;
- they exchanged confidential information about certain customer requests;
- they shared transport volumes contracted by downstream customers;
- they agreed on a coordination of prices directly and they provided each other with covered bids in respect of customers included in the allocation scheme. They also coordinated sales pricing offered to downstream customers.
The infringement lasted for eight years and ended in June 2012. Both companies fined benefited from a 10% reduction under the settle notice as they cooperated with the Commission in the investigation.