ICE3: High-Tech made in Germany

Anyone who travels long distances in Germany by train today takes the ICE as a matter of course. The ICE slogan “twice as fast as a car, half as fast as a plane” stresses the great strength of the ICE speed. To many travelers the ICE is a synonym for high speed combined with high travelling comfort. The ICE is “the” high-tech product of Deutsche Bahn.

The development of ICE trains began in 1985 with construction of the ICExperimental, the test model of the ICE1. After an extended series of tests, the ICE age officially began at Deutsche Bahn in 1991 with the commencement of high-speed traffic by ICE trains on the newly-built route between Hanover and Würzburg. The travel time from Hamburg to Munich was shortened considerably as a result. The first generation of ICE trains consisted of 2 motor coaches and up to 14 trailers.


Only a year later, in 1992, work started on the successor, the ICE2. By comparison with the first generation, the ICE2 was to offer the option of coupling both train configurations like the ICE1 (2 motor coaches + trailers) as well as forming “half-trains” (1 motor coach + 5 trailers + 1 control trailer). Delivery of the first ICE2 trains commenced in late 1995.


For the latest generation of ICE trains, the ICE3, the spec sheet included requirements for stronger motors, lighter vehicles, a maximum speed of 330 km/h, and compatibility for service in neighboring countries. The result was a motor set in which the drive equipment is distributed throughout the entire train, a concept that offers many advantages:

  • Easier isolation of drive equipment noise sources, as they are installed below the train.
  • Energy-saving brake system
  • Higher seating capacity with the same train length

Train formation concept, train safety, and braking system

As with the ICE2, the ICE3 also implemented the wing concept, i.e. an 8-part motor set (half-train) that can be coupled with another half-train of the ICE3. If required, two half trains can be coupled into a long train or be driven as half trains. Due to the fact that a number of European railway companies have developed different train safety systems, the ICE3 was equipped with different automatic train protection systems for train safety and train running control. The ICE3 design also factored in future train safety systems which today provide a Europe-wide basis for safe signalling operation of the ICE3. In addition, three different, independent braking systems were implemented:

  • A generator brake with regenerative feedback in the driven cars (max. braking power: 8200 kW)
  • An eddy current brake in the non-driven cars whose power supply during a network outage is ensured by generative operation of the drive motors.
  • A pneumatic (compressed air) brake in all cars. During malfunctions, the train can be brought to a full stop from top speed with the pneumatic brake alone.
Comparative data ICE1, ICE2, and ICE3

Traction equipment

A half train consists of 4 driven and 4 non-driven cars. Four cars (end car, transformer car, converter car, and trailer) form an electrical unit. The end car and converter car are driven on all four axles. The transformer car and the trailer are not driven. Thanks to the distributed drive equipment with 50 % driven wheel sets, grades of up to 40 per thousand can be managed with wheel set loads of up to 17 t. The traction equipment is designed to handle various different network voltages – 15 kV / 16.7 Hz DBAG, SBB and ÖBB (German, Swiss, and Austrian state railways), and 1.5 kV DC and 25 kV / 50 Hz SNCF (French state railway) and NS (Dutch state railway), and 3 kV SNCB (Belgian state railway). Borders can be crossed without problems even when network voltages differ. The system change takes place either stationary or during travel, depending on the infrastructure available. All functions required for this are integrated in the train control system.


The two transformer cars contain the components of the AC high-voltage system, which includes the pantographs, the surge suppressor, and the main vacuum circuit breaker with grounding switch for supplying the main transformer. The transformer cars are connected to each other via a high-voltage line run through the roof that can be cut by a circuit breaker during malfunctions. The trailers contain the pantographs for AC operation with 25 kV and for operation on the Swiss network; they are also connected to the high-voltage line. The pantographs for direct current operation are located in the converter car. The DC high-voltage system (installed in a DC container located below the car floor) is supplied via a circuit breaker designed for 25 kV. The main transformer is located below the transformer car. Single-system and multisystem transformers are designed identically as far as possible. During a change from 15 to 35 kV, the secondary connections are switched over in a circuit breaker frame located next to the transformer. 4-pin, housing-free, externally ventilated, three-phase asynchronous motors with squirrel-cage rotors are used as drive motors. The drive power is 500 kW per drive motor and the maximum speed is 6,000 rpm.

On-board electrical system and air-conditioning system

The on-board power network supplies the auxiliary operations (e.g. pumps, ventilators), the kitchen consumers (e.g. microwave), and the comfort consumers (e.g. air conditioning, heating) with electrical energy. The system was conceived taking into account the voltage systems common in Europe (15 kV / 16.7 Hz, 25 kV / 50 Hz, 3 kV DC, 1.5 kV DC). For this reason, a 670 V DC train bus bar was implemented which runs through the entire motor set and offers great advantages in terms of weight, installation space as well as availability and reliability. A constant or rpm-variable three-phase current system (max. 440 V, 60 Hz) supplied by output converters located below the individual cars is generated from the train bus bar.


The installed on-board network power is 1000 kVA per half train, with the max. requirement being approx. 800 kVA when the traction auxiliary operation and air-conditioning are at full power. The on-board network also includes a 110 V battery bus bar running through the entire motor set which supplies the car lighting, the electronic control units such as the drive control unit, the braking control unit, the central train control system and door control system, and the conventional switching level. Two sets of lead batteries with 280 Ah each, which are located below the trailers, are operated on the battery bus bar. Each battery set has a charger with an output of 60 kW supplied from the 670 V train bus bar. To ensure continued supply of the most important auxiliary operations, the eddy current brake, and the air-conditioning during a network power outage, each charger can supply 30 kW from the battery into the 670 V train bus bar.


Air-supported air-conditioning, which had already been proven in aviation and then adapted for rail use, was used for the first time in the new ICE3. Thanks to the use of air as a coolant, these air conditioning systems dispense with the utilization of conventional coolants that are detrimental to environment. Other significant advantages of this cooling method include lower maintenance costs and weight savings. The labor costs for replacing air conditioning components are also reduced by eliminating the emptying and refilling of coolant.

Control engineering and data communications in the train

The central control unit is the core of the IEC3 control system. The design is redundant, i.e. there are two control units in each end car. If one unit fails, the other unit is switched to automatically. A train communication network (TCN) bus system provides integration of all 116 control systems of the ICE3 and consists primarily of the train bus (wire train bus, WTB) and the vehicle bus (multifunctional vehicle bus, MVB). Four cars form each transaction unit via an MVB segment, which is connected to the WTB via gateways. The individual control systems are connected via the MVB. Data is exchanged between the two transaction units and between the two coupled half trains via the WTB. The traction vehicle driver receives comprehensive information on the current status of the various systems via two displays built into the driver‘s cabin featuring a diagnosis system that provides an overview of special operational events and malfunctions. The diagnostic messages are forwarded to the appropriate workshops via mobile radio.

Regions where the ICE3 is used

Planned operation of the ICE3 by Deutsche Bahn and the Dutch state railways began at the Expo 2000 on June 1, 2000. The trains traveled the routes Munich-Hannover, Basel-Frankfurt-Hannover, and Cologne-Düsseldorf-Hannover. Since November 2000, these trains are travelling from Amsterdam to Frankfurt via Cologne (via the old Rhine route). All 50 trains have been in use since early 2001. Since the commissioning of the Cologne-Frankfurt new route, ICE3s are linking these two cities at top speeds of 330 km/h.


This train was designed modularly to be able to replace defective components as quickly as possible. Consequently, connector technology is an extremely important issue. Components to be replaced are simply separated at the pluggable connections, so that work-intensive deinstallation of the electrical connections is not necessary, reducing total maintenance times and costs. HARTING connectors are used in various applications for the ICE3, two of which we will outline in the following.

Motor sensing system

This application, which is implemented under the car near the drive, features the Han 24 HP housing with Han Quintax contacts for transmitting the motor data (temperature monitoring, rotary encoders).

MVB distributor box

The MVB distributor box is located in the car interior and separates the MVB. The MVB is built redundantly (line A + B) and is located inside the car in a cable. In order to ensure secure operation, the bus is divided physically into two cables and run separately to the car transition. The bus is run back together at the other end. D-Sub connectors in InduCom9 housings have been opted for here (see following article on the InduCom9 in railway engineering).

The future of the ICE and connector technology

Deutsche Bahn has exercised its option to buy another 13 ICE3 trains, the construction of which began in the autumn of 2002. The fact that the ICE3 will be running in Spain in the near future is further proof of the success of this technology. Siemens has been commissioned to build 16 trains of the AVE S103 series, as the train is called there officially. Construction of these units also begins in the autumn of 2002.


Today, new trains and locomotives are almost exclusively built in modular design. As a result, connector technology is becoming an increasingly significant factor in rail technologies. This is a challenge that HARTING will face in the future, both in the fields of energy and signal transmission. In cooperation with system suppliers, the HARTING technology group will continue to supply the transportation market with solutions for the most complex requirements and the easiest handling.

Frank Düker

Technical Application Support


HARTING Deutschland GmbH & Co. KG