The train was originally used to test components during the development of the ICE 3 in the mid-1990s. The powerheads were taken from the ongoing production of the ICE 2 with only minor modifications. Two of the three original carriages had 500 kW (670 hp) traction motors on each axle, resulting in an impressive overall power output of 13,600 kW (18,200 hp). When testing was completed, both these powered carriages were retired.
After the ICE V was retired, the ICE S became the testing train for the maintenance of the high-speed lines. Three times a year, the train runs on each line with an array of sensors and cameras to determine the line's condition. During the acceptance tests of new high-speed lines, the ICE S is usually the first train to drive the line at the design speed and beyond.
While testing bogies for DB and Japan Rail, the train achieved a speed of 393 km/h (244 mph) on 13 July 2001, which is the highest speed driven on German rails since the InterCityExperimental's land speed record campaign in 1988.
This train was originally built for testing the technical concepts of the ICE 3, and operated with three intermediate cars forming a "half ICE 3" (transformer car and two cars with traction motors). Now most operate with only one intermediate car for different testing purposes. In this case it seemed to be a test run of the new highspeed line Cologne-Düren (ABS 4), where ICE and Thalys trains shall run with 250 km/h (160 mph) in the future.
The train consists of two motor units (derived from the ICE 2) and three coaches with test equipment. The train, which has a power rating of 14,000 kW (19,000 hp) (2x 5,000 kW (6,700 hp) (motor units) + 2,000 kW (2,700 hp) (motor bogies of coaches)) at the moment, will be used to test new components for the forthcoming ICE 3. Although the coaches are designed for 330 km/h (210 mph), it is planned to attain a top speed of 440 km/h (270 mph) (which would be a new record for German trains). The main visible differences to normal ICE 2 trainsets are the special design and the three pantographs of the coaches.