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Infrabel demands six million from colluding suppliers

© Belga
© Belga

Infrabel, the infrastructure manager and operator of the Belgian railway network, is taking five suppliers to court because they had been making illegal price agreements for years. The company reported this on Friday. 

For almost six years, five companies have been colluding with regard to a framework agreement with Infrabel, which enabled them to submit bids at prices that were higher than market prices. An enquiry set up by the Belgian Competition Authority (BCA) was completed in May 2017 and pointed to the five companies as being responsible. Infrabel is now taking these companies to court to recoup its losses, which independent experts estimate at between 4 and 6 million euro. The exact figure involved will be specified during the proceedings.

The companies: ABB SA, SIEMENS NV; AEG BELGIUM; SCHNEIDER ELECTRIC ENERGY BELGIUM and SÉCHERON SA fixed prices among themselves from August 2010 until June 2016. These were higher than market prices, which according to Infrabel were to their detriment.

The companies in question all won tenders in a framework agreement for the renewal of traction substations. Whenever Infrabel needed a contractor under this framework agreement, it invited these companies to bid against each other. 

In 2017, the BCA imposed a joint fine of 1.78 million euro on the companies. Half of that fine had to be paid by Siemens. Swiss-based ABB, the first to confess, was exempted from a fine because the company was a whistleblower.

Infrabel now wants to recover the financial damage suffered from the five companies in question in court. The Belgian rail network operator is not interested in concluding an amicable settlement. “You have to see it as a breach of trust and a blow to the face of our company,” says Infrabel spokesman Frédéric Petit.

This is not the first time that Infrabel has collided with Siemens, one of its most important suppliers. A few months ago, it publicly accused Siemens of being the cause of the many delays on the Belgian rail network. The company’s latest axle counter (a device on a railway that detects the passing of a train between two points on a track) would not work properly. 

Last week Infrabel warned about the imminent merger between the French train company Alstom and the train branch of Siemens. According to Infrabel, the merger, which has yet to be approved by the European Commission, will lead to higher prices.

Arthur Rubinstein
The Brussels Times