The fastest lab on rails

Article: The fastest lab on rails

With the advanced TrainLab Deutsche Bahn tests new technologies

They are probably Deutsche Bahn's most unusual ICE trains: the company operates two test trains to test the latest technologies for rail transport. The first "advanced TrainLab" was put into service in December 2018, the second "lab on rails" followed in August 2021.

Almost weekly, both TrainLabs are out on test runs all over Germany. On board the trains are DB experts with cooperation partners from industry or scientific institutions. The TrainLabs are intended to be available to the entire rail industry to conduct its experiments and to cover the range of trials of innovative technologies that is not possible with DB's regular passenger or freight trains.


At first glance, both test trains resemble a normal ICE, but they differ in important respects: the usually red stripe on the side is grey on the advanced TrainLabs. Some rows of seats have been removed to make room for measuring equipment in the interior. The pantograph is missing on the roof because the test trains have diesel engines. This means they can also run on non-electrified routes and can thus be used more flexibly. The TrainLabs run for test purposes only and do not operate in passenger service.

Technically, the trains are class 605 multiple units (ICE-TD), which were in passenger service until 2017. Each train consists of two intermediate and two end cars and is a total of 107 meters in length. Four 560 kilowatt (761 hp) engines can accelerate each train to a top speed of 200 km/h. This means tests in the high-speed range are just as possible as those at walking pace.

The test trains are based in Halle-Ammendorf. This is also where the refueling station is located from which the trains can fill up with very special eco-diesel: the fuel, which is made 100 per cent from biological residues and waste materials, makes it possible to reduce CO₂ emissions by up to 90 per cent compared to normal diesel.

The following overview of ongoing and completed projects shows which tests and experiments are possible with the advanced TrainLabs:

Wireless networks: Modern and robust internet-surfing on the ICE

With ITonICE, DB has been bringing a manufacturer-independent IT platform to ICE trains since the beginning of mid-2020. It forms the technical basis for standardized real-time travel information, a modern reservation system and improved WiFi. Additional access points, routers and external antennas are used for a more powerful WiFi. We want to bring more radio signals from the outside into the trains and distribute them better inside. To ensure that the technology works perfectly and that the right components are used in the right place, the WiFi components of the manufacturer-independent IT platform were subjected to an extensive performance test on the advanced TrainLab.

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The test drives took place between Berlin and Halle in the first half of 2021. With the unique connectivity test platform on the aTL, our experts were able to compare different component setups directly while driving and thus determine which combination of components delivers the greatest added value for a stable and significantly more powerful WiFi.


 Sensor platform: High-precision data for automated railway operation

At the advanced TrainLab (aTL), Digitale Schiene Deutschland is testing technologies for automated railway operations in the mainline area, which enable, among other things, the perception of the train's surrounding area and the real-time location of the trains. With various sensors such as radar, lidar and (IR) cameras, the train's environment can be precisely recorded. A specially designed sensor platform makes it possible to use the sensors on the test vehicle even at high-speed operations. The mobile sensor platform can also be used to validate non-railway technologies by simplifying access to test and measurement data and their evaluation. In the future, the technologies prototypically tested here should contribute to more robust and low-disruption railway operations with higher capacity.

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 ETCS Guardia: An innovation for the European Train Control System

The infrastructure development on the European Train Control System ETCS requires a large number of vehicles which should be equipped with innovative ETCS solutions in the entire sector. Stadler Signaling developed an ETCS Onboard Unit (OBU) integrated with a class B-system PZB, which, due to the modular design and innovative system integration, can be implemented together with DB without the vehicle manufacturer. After receiving approval, it will be possible to run with ETCS Guardia OBU on the network with ETCS Level 1 LS and Level 2 Baseline 2 and 3. In the future, the German market will have another supplier of ETCS OBUs for a wide variety of vehicle series. With ETCS Guardia on board, the advanced TrainLab can also cover an even broader range of testing options for new ETCS developments as well as other innovative technologies.

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HVO biofuels: More sustainability with alternative fuels

The advanced TrainLab currently runs on regenerative test fuel without the need for modifications to the vehicle or tank equipment. The test fuel, the so-called R33-Blue HVO (HVO= hydrogenated vegetable oil), consists of 100 percent converted biological residual and waste materials, such as used cooking oil. Modern chemical processes bring the waste products into the tank: these are filtered, cleaned and processed into a high-quality synthetic fuel. During the test phase, a detailed environmental balance sheet was drawn up, taking into account the entire energy requirement from the time of production.

Eco-diesel can improve the carbon footprint by up to 90%. During the test runs, engine characteristics are recorded in order to detect possible effects on the performance of the engines at an early stage. In an initial test phase, a mixture of conventional diesel and HVO was tested in the advanced TrainLab. The results were evaluated very positively. A pilot test of this mixture is already being planned for vehicles with passenger service.


HVO = hydrogenated vegetable oil) , FAME = fatty acid methyl ester
HVO = hydrogenated vegetable oil) , FAME = fatty acid methyl ester
Mobile networks: Flexible testing for improved train-to-land communication

One of the TrainLabs has a very special piece of equipment on board – the Connectivity Test Platform. This is a roof rack for antennas on the vehicle's intermediate car. Up to 20 antennas can be mounted on each car at the same time, whereby the antennas are not installed directly on the vehicle roof, but on a mounting plate. Pre-laid cables lead from the antenna positions into the interior of the vehicle, each ending in a 19-inch rack where the corresponding measuring equipment can be placed. This significantly reduces design and installation work, ensuring both flexibility and efficiency when preparing our tests.

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Railway communication network: With Innovative antenna-systems into the future 
The advanced TrainLab in the digital test field on a measurement run next to a 5G transmission tower

Digitale Schiene Deutschland, Ericsson and Rohde & Schwarz are cooperating to investigate signal propagation at 1.9 GHz and multi-antenna radio technologies in a field trial project. The trials take place in DB’s Digital Rail Testbed in Erzgebirge and use spectrum which is foreseen for the Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS) – the successor of GSM-R. Findings of the field study shall support the design and deployment of radio systems for prospective digital rail operations.

The trials use the connectivity platform of the advanced TrainLab which provides flexible antenna mounting options on the train rooftop. This allows the evaluation of onboard antenna placement strategies for FRMCS and the assessment of different signal transmission strategies.

Find more information here

Localization and communication: research for improvement of efficient and safe railway operations 

On a two-week series of tests with the researchers of the Institute of Communications and Navigation of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) the advanced TrainLab was used as a mobile laboratory, equipped with high-frequency communications technologies, special antennas and on-board sensors.

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In the V2X-DuRail project, the DLR team investigates in particular radio systems in the five-gigahertz frequency band, which allow secure communications between trains, parts of trains and carriages of a single train, and crossing road traffic. For the railway system of the future, it will also be vital to reliably determine where a train’s location, how long it is and whether it is still complete at any given time. The 'IMPACT' project team is developing a new localization method that measures the magnetic field and even works when satellite navigation fails.

Further information here

Reliable components for traction technology 

The traction technology of trains in the railway sector is strongly affected by the aging of individual components, including in particular the traction converters. These are responsible for converting the traction current from the overhead line or the contact rail for the traction motors. Obsolete technologies which are no longer available must be replaced by cost-effective, reliable, and easy-to-install solutions. Thus, the Portuguese manufacturer Nomad Tech is meeting this challenge and they are testing innovative components on the advanced TrainLab. A power car of the advanced TrainLab was successfully equipped with the new technology of IGBT power converters. The testing aims to provide passenger trains with a reliable, energy-saving, and simple "plug&play” technology, which at the same time makes Deutsche Bahn independent of the big manufacturers of drive technology in the railway sector.   

old power converters
new IGBT power converters


Environment scanning: Reliable detection of obstacles in the track in time 

Together with Siemens Mobility, we have been testing the Siemens "Mainline Assistant" since the beginning of 2019 as part of Siemens' "Assisted and driverless operation for tram and mainline" program. The Mainline Assistant can prevent impact with buffer stops or obstacles on the track and is intended to make partially automated operation possible in future for stabling trains and preparation for operation.

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The system consists of different sensors such as a camera, radar sensor and lidar technology and has been fully integrated into the vehicle by means of a special design. The latest algorithms in the field of sensor fusion and AI-based obstacle detection are being tested on the advanced TrainLab. Another focus is the measurement of how well the sensors function in different weather conditions and when covered with dirt. The results are incorporated into product development and are regularly discussed with interested groups of experts during demonstration runs.

The video shows the approach of the laboratory train to various obstacles during tests at the digital test facility in the Erzgebirge.


Punctuality and stability: fewer delays in the operational process by reproducible braking processes

The tests with Knorr-Bremse and DB Systemtechnik as part of the EU-funded "Shift2Rail" program are intended to optimize braking and starting acceleration under various ambient conditions. The test runs simulate different adhesion coefficients between wheel and rail. The goal is strict compliance with stopping distances through a combination of braking system and sanding equipment, for optimized interaction with customer information systems on platforms along with improved operational stability.


New splendor: tests with six paint systems
Das advanced TrainLab wurde im Zuge einer Erprobung für Oberflächenbeschichtungen rund um neu lackiert.

The advanced TrainLab has been given a totally new paint job as part of the testing of surface coatings. The special thing is that each car was coated with different paint systems. The companies taking part were wefa, FreiLacke, Mankiewicz, Akzo Nobel and KABE. The painting was carried out at MSG Ammendorf. For the first time on a rail vehicle, powder coatings were used on the side flaps of the train. While being highly resistant to impacts and scratches, powder coatings are especially eco-friendly in use as they do not require harmful solvents. What all the paints and coatings have in common is their promised resistance to cleaning agents and, in particular to aggressive graffiti solvents. In addition, some paints and coatings allow a reduced production time. The long-term trial is being overseen by a specialist department from DB Systemtechnik until 2023. During this time, the gloss level and color change at defined measuring points on the vehicle will be measured, documented and made available to all those taking part.