Germany’s New ICE4 – Back to the Future?


The latest generation of the German ICE trains – the ICE4, is advertised as “A Flexibly Usable Train”, where all the vehicles (coaches) can operate as “independent units”, and can be linked together in combinations of 5 to 14 cars.

Back in the days before FFT (Fixed Formation Trains), locomotive hauled coaches could be assembled in rakes from single to well into double figures.  But, whilst this latest development of ICE4 now being built by Siemens seems to re-introduce the options we knew as locomotive hauled trains, it is much more flexible than that – it seems.

icx-powercar-concept-large-enSiemens and Deutsche Bahn’s approach is basically a train of all power cars – with the control systems replicated in each coach, or car.  So the technology of today perhaps really can take us back to the future, with all of the flexibility of loco hauled trains, but with the flexibility and adaptability of multiple units.  As Siemens say:

“To provide the flexible vehicle concept, the principle of individual cars for a multipleunit train was rigorously implemented for the first time. The “power car principle” is an absolute innovation in high-speed rail: The so-called “power car” combines all traction components in one car. Trainset configurations from 5 cars to 14 cars are possible by combining unpowered trailer cars with power cars,” explained Jochen Eickholt, head of Siemens’ rail business.

“The advantage of the new solution is that each car is a separate entity. This enables trains to be flexibly put together from individual cars, facilitating adaptation to long-term changes in demand.”

It seems like an ideal solution for those UK train companies who experience peaks and troughs in demand – and not just the commuter lines.  Ah but, maybe having the ability to operate shorter or longer trains according to passenger numbers would affect the times for charging ‘peak’, ‘advance’ or ‘anytime’ fares.

ice4-imageTechnology & Innovation

These new high speed trains will be composed of five car types: in addition to the power cars, there is also a powered service car with conductor compartment and pantograph as well as trailer cars with pantographs.

The bogies of the power cars are more compact and shorter than the bogies of the Velaro D, despite an additional 100 millimeters between the axles. Siemens identify this saving as being due to the use of self-ventilated, aircooled traction motors – although not a new arrangement in itself.  There is less space needed within the bogie envelope using this ‘maintenance free’ arrangement, since there is no need for any externally powered ventilation hardware.  Each wheelset in a power car has a continuous output rating of ca. 400 kilowatts.

Again, with the intent of increasing the design’ versatility, half of the axles are are powered, with the intent to enable the air brakes of the non-powered cars to provide the necessary deceleration in an emergency braking. Depending on the profile of the rail route, fewer power cars and more trailer cars can also be used.

Interior & Layout

The ICE 4 is designed using the “empty tube principle”, with a large usable floor space the entire passenger area has a modular layout, and all furnishings can be varied at will, enabling last-minute changes to accommodate new requirements quickly and easily.

ice4-image-2On board, illumination is provided by what is described as “accent lighting” using the latest LED technology, and is said to offer greater comfort and an enjoyable experience for passengers. The interior lighting is automatically adjusted according to the season and time of day.

Control & Communication

Some of the innovation deployed with the new ICE4 trains is developed from industrial automation systems and processes, some of which will be familiar to anyone involved in manufacturing industry.  For instance, the SIBAS PN- Siemens’ railway automation system is based on SIMATIC components used in industrial automation systems. The communication network comprises two hierarchical levels: ETB (Ethernet Train Bus) and PROFINET vehicle bus.

Both communication systems are based on Fast Ethernet (100 Mbit/s, Switched Ethernet) with optional redundancy.

Towards the Intelligent Train?

A question that’s been asked before, but the ICE 4 seems to be taking a firm step in that direction.

“If a car is replaced, the new unit automatically integrates itself into the train control system. The train network is housed in the end car. This network also serves as the central interface for calling up all the information relating to the state of the train.”

Next thing you know, all model railway enthusiasts will be wanting to do the same thing!


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