Khe drives in almost two minutes ICE through the Albabstieg tunnel just before Ulm, then it suddenly gets light and the travelers’ eyes fall on the scaffolded tower of the Ulm Minster, the tallest church tower in the world.
The railway technicians are doing the last test runs on the new ICE line between Wendlingen and Ulm. On December 11, the 60-kilometer route will be included in the timetable. The journey time is then reduced from 56 to 42 minutes. In addition, travel times on the Merklingen–Ulm and Tübingen–Ulm routes are noticeably shorter. Travelers on the ICE lines 11 (Berlin-Munich), 47 (Dortmund-Munich) and 60 (Stuttgart-Munich) will soon benefit from the two-hour intervals, because thanks to the new route, there are no longer 70 trains a day between Stuttgart and Munich, but 90.
This week, the technicians were on the road with a Type 1 ICE as a test train. 250 train drivers have to be trained for the new route, the final step before the line can finally be put into operation after ten years of construction. Björn Tissies is one of the “engine drivers”, as it is called in German for the railways. Your approval is always route-specific. Tissies sits in the driver’s cab in the power car of the ICE. A mechanical counter in the control cabinet shows 15.4 million kilometers travelled, after all these trains have been in use since 1991.
Two antennas on the train roof
Of course, Tissies looks at a display when steering the train. In addition to the route, the train control system ETCS (European Train Control System) is also new to him. There are no more signals at the edge of the rails. “The system informs me via the monitor about route signs and speed limits or stopping points,” says Tissies. The system is mandatory from 160 kilometers per hour. The ICE reaches speeds of 250 kilometers per hour on the new route.
Passengers and train spotters only see the two antennas on the train roof and the “balises” in the track bed of the new electronic system – yellow metal boxes or wired milestones. They help to record the position of the trains. Olaf Drescher, Managing Director of the DB project company, is sitting in the test train wearing an orange vest and explains the advantages of the control system and the route: “The actual and target speeds are constantly being determined, the engine driver can accelerate and if he doesn’t brake as planned , the system intervenes.”
The advantages of the system: less susceptibility to faults, higher security, better line utilisation. With the old system, only one train could navigate a one-kilometer stretch, now three trains can be navigated on the same stretch, but not at top speed. Theoretically, a capacity increase of 30 percent is possible: Thanks to the system, 32 S-Bahn trains per hour instead of 24 should be able to run on the congested S-Bahn main line in the new Stuttgart railway hub. For Stuttgart 21 the system is a blessing because it will help the new railway junction, which is only planned with eight tracks, to keep up with the German rhythm.