It's a hot summer's day, but an icy wind covers a Deutsche Bahn train with a white layer of frost. In this case, the extremes that are taking place in a test facility in Vienna have nothing to do with climate change. They are part of the tests that the new ICE L train type has to go through before it can go into service at the end of next year. Despite the designation ICE, the low-floor vehicles from the Spanish manufacturer Talgo are not used for high-speed connections, but as a replacement for older Intercity 1 trains - sometimes also in diesel operation.
For non-electrified routes, so-called two-power locomotives are pulled in front of the ICE-L, which run on both fuel and electricity. In principle, however, the ICE L is operated with a purely electric locomotive that is designed for the different voltages of the German and Dutch railways. Therefore, the new trains should first run between Berlin and Amsterdam. "This eliminates the need to change locomotives at the border. That saves a lot of time," says Stella Köster, who is responsible for the procurement and introduction of the ICE L at Deutsche Bahn.
From mid-2026, the island of Sylt and Oberstdorf in Bavaria will also be approached. In the medium term, the 79 trains ordered are intended for connections throughout Germany. The ICE L reaches a maximum speed of 230 km/h. "In the future, the train will be used on many routes in Germany where 300 km/h is not necessary," says Köster, describing the difference to faster ICE models.
"Wherever it says ICE, there is also ICE comfort inside"
According to the project managers, the fact that the new train bears the name ICE has something to do with the interior design. "Wherever it says ICE, there is also ICE comfort in it," says Köster. The unique selling point of the ICE L within the ICE fleet is the stepless entry. Because of the design, the wagons are only about half as long as current DB wagons. "That changes the sense of space," says Köster, speaking of a more private, quieter environment. In the stepless train, it is also possible for wheelchair users to drive to the on-board bistro.
The Pro Bahn passenger association also emphasizes this aspect positively. "This train is particularly good for tourist traffic if a lot of suitcases are taken along," said Karl-Peter Naumann of the dpa. A good model was purchased for the intended purposes. The only criticism is that Deutsche Bahn only ordered the longer version of the ICE L. Pro Bahn fears that there will now be no direct connections in holiday regions where trains have previously been shared or coupled with each other on the journey.
Tests under extreme conditions
In Vienna, an ICE L is currently in the world's largest climatic wind tunnel. Winds of up to 300 km/h and temperatures from minus 45 degrees to plus 60 degrees can be generated in the state test center for rail vehicles - including rain, ice, snow and UV radiation. The system consumes a lot of energy. The power consumption corresponds to that of a small town, as Katharina Wagner from the canal operator Rail Tec Arsenal says. The manufacturers Siemens and Alstom are also involved in the operating company.
For the ICE L, a tried and tested Talgo model was selected, which has so far been used in Spain and Saudi Arabia, for example. Nevertheless, before being used by Deutsche Bahn, all components such as door mechanisms, windscreen wipers and air conditioning systems must be tested under extreme conditions. "It's getting hotter and hotter, and that's why the air conditioning systems should work reliably," says Köster. Prior to the start of operation, rail tests in Poland and Germany as well as training courses for DB staff are also on the agenda.
ICE fleet is renewed
The ICE L is part of the planned rejuvenation of the entire long-distance transport fleet. Siemens is already supplying DB with the new ICE4 and ICE3 neo. With the new acquisitions, Deutsche Bahn wants to reduce the average age of the ICE fleet from the current 18 to 12 years by 2030. There is great hope within the Group that a younger fleet will also contribute to fewer disruptions and thus more punctuality. By the end of the decade, more than 450 ICE trains from the state-owned company will be on the road - significantly more than is currently the case.
The development of a new express train that can reach speeds of 280 to 300 kilometers per hour and at the same time offers level access at platform level, i.e. without steps, has also already been announced. So far, according to DB, there is no such technology. A project phase has already been completed, according to DB, preparations are currently underway for a tender for development, construction and approval. Commissioning is planned for the end of 2031.