BRUSSELS/VIENNA (Reuters) - The European Commission has conducted unannounced inspections on Austrian rail operators it believes may have violated EU antitrust rules prohibiting cartels and restrictive practices.
The inspections, carried out on Nov. 24 with counterparts from the Austrian competition authority, are a preliminary step to assess possible breaches of EU competition rules.
“The Commission’s investigation relates to alleged anti-competitive practices aimed at excluding competing rail passenger transport operators from the market,” the EU executive said in a statement on Wednesday.
State-owned OeBB is the principal railway company in Austria, but there are a number of private operators, such as for the CAT shuttle from the city of Vienna to the airport and the Westbahn passenger line from Vienna to Salzburg.
An OeBB statement said the Commission investigated several of its sites last week and that the company is cooperating with authorities but sees no reason for these checks.
OeBB said the accusations relate to past disputes with Westbahn, including claims that OeBB and its partners offered tickets too cheaply. OeBB rejects the accusation.
The national rail operator said it has incurred legal costs of at least 500,000 euros ($530,000.00) because of the investigation.
Westbahn and CAT said they were not affected by the investigations.
Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Additional reporting by Georgina Prodhan and Shadia Nasralla; Editing by David Goodman