With the opening of DB Museum’s “Design & Bahn” exhibition, we celebrate 30 years of the ICE series – Andreas Bergsträßer gives his insight into the global success story.


At N+P, we have a 30-year history in the design of the ICE series; our founder Alexander Neumeister shaped its vision since the beginning. However, the ICE 3 really allowed us to do something completely new.


By participating in Deutsche Bahn’s design competition of 1994, we saw the chance to initiate a new era of design at DB – we gave it our all to win the competition. As a visionary, Neumeister took care of highlights and storytelling. We worked within a tight timeframe of six weeks, which was not as easy when considering the tools that were available to us at the time. Instead of creating photorealistic renderings very quickly based on 3D models, which we do today, marker + airbrush could only give an idea of the later look, despite our efforts. However, with perfect photos of our model, we managed to convey a realistic idea of the new interior. For this purpose, part of the 1:10 interior white model, which was a submission requirement anyways, was given a real surface finish. In addition, drawings and exterior half-models showed all the key features of the new train family. This was an achievement of the whole team; we set the foundation of today’s ICE family.


The full interview (in German) with Thomas Edelmann can be viewed below, or continue reading for the English translation.

"We saw the chance to initiate a new era of design at DB."

The real design process started in 1995 - within 6-8 months we had to define the main areas of both trains. There were two targets we had to reach: In August 1995, some models were presented at the DB headquarters in Frankfurt. On this basis, the design was confirmed so that the mock-up construction could be started. In December 1995, an extensive number of walk-in 1:1 mock-ups were then to be presented in a modern industrial hall in Poing, east of Munich.


By the end of 1995, all stakeholders had a very realistic idea of what the later trains would look like. However, for the mock-up construction to succeed, we designers had to estimate in many places how much space the technical components would need. No one could tell us precisely, as the engineering work had not yet started at the time. Today, when photos of the mock-ups are shown, many people think it’s the series-ready product – only insiders can tell the difference as a great deal of effort went into building them.

"We turned ‘high speed’ travel into a real experience."

Inspired by features from the earlier ICE V design, the ICE 3 has the same “white” base color, the red signaling stripe, and the continuous window band. In the ICE 3, we combined these elements even more harmoniously. For the exterior design, we added the offset lower skirt trim, the arched side wall, and the offset roof. Another iconic feature of the ICE 3 is the large, oval front window, which consists of two panels: The lower front window for the train driver and the upper for the passengers. And this is where we come to Neumeister’s innovative thinking: How can “high speed” really be experienced by passengers?


Through a glazed partition behind the driver, passengers could look over the driver’s shoulder at speeds of 300 km/h. Other iconic elements include the curved glass luggage racks: A space-saving and self-supporting solution. However, it was a long way from the initial idea (already part of the competition) to reality. Load tests showed that curved glass has enormous inherent stability. Even then, the interplay of the frosted panels with the lighting produced a very harmonious spatial effect. The entry areas are also important, as this is the first interior touchpoint a passenger interacts with. With curved wooden facades of the WCs, we created a noticeable spaciousness in the passageway, which improves passenger flow and widens the view into the passenger compartment. The targeted use of natural materials succeeded in moving the new trains away from the plastic image that used to dominate the predecessor models ICE 1 + 2.

"Trains must be designed with an operator’s involvement."

Despite the opportunities in designing trains, operators often solely rely on technical specifications during the tender phase. This results in manufacturer A interpreting the specifications differently than manufacturer B or C. Thus, three completely different proposals are submitted, which can roughly do the same thing, but aren’t really comparable, which makes the evaluation extremely difficult.


This explains why the vehicle should be designed with the subsequent operator’s active involvement, before the tendering process begins. In the case of DB’s “ECx” procurement project, the design specification supplemented the technical specification. DB was therefore offered vehicles from international manufacturers that met (more or less) the design specification, and subsequently awarded the contract to Talgo.


Looking back on my 35 years in designing trains, I think we need to think about smaller and therefore more flexible units that are controlled remotely or in groups. Modern train systems should offer operators more flexibility to respond to rapidly adapting environments. Additionally, operators, manufacturers and suppliers have the opportunity to make rail travel more attractive again. Mass transportation must become more individualized – the price per seat has shaped and held back developments for far too long. Passengers must be offered more choice in the interior of trains, as not every passenger has the same wishes. Today, the train as a traveling home office has more opportunities than ever before, and passengers also want to be able to feel “at home” when they are on the move – let’s embrace these opportunities!

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