Germany's first crowdfunded train sets out on maiden voyage

Germany's first crowdfunded train has made its first journey from Stuttgart to Berlin - arriving five minutes early. Berlin-based startup Locomore knows its one train isn't much competition for the giant Deutsche Bahn.

Locomore's orange, refurbished train from the 1970s left that station in Stuttgart at 6:21 a.m. (0521 UTC) Wednesday on a six-and-a-half hour journey to the German capital.

The train stopped at the German cities of Frankfurt and Hannover before arriving in Berlin's main station five minutes early, according to a tweet from Mark Smith, the author of the train travel website "The Man in Seat 61."

The Berlin-based startup, however, is little more than a pinprick in the side of Germany's state rail company Deutsche Bahn which has a market share of 99 percent on long-distance train travel. The state firm has more competitors on the regional rail networks.

With currently only one return service a day compared to Deutsche Bahn's 700 long-distance journeys per day, Locomore founder Derek Ladewig knows he's far from being considered competition - but it's a start.

"We are offering a new service to compete with the car, the plane, the long-distance bus as well as Deutsche Bahn," Ladewig told the AFP news agency. He hopes the train will also deter customers from using less environmentally friendly forms of transportation.

Locomore received its seed money from online supporters who chipped in at total of over 600,000 euros ($640,000) in over one year.

The startup also hopes to attract customers with cheaper train tickets that the company claims will always cost less than Deutsche Bahn tickets. A Deutsche Bahn ticket from Stuttgart to Berlin currently costs over 100 euros ($106).

In the future, Locomore plans to expand its service to include Munich and Cologne.

Besides the cheaper prices, Locomore's "Social Seating" arrangement gives passengers the opportunity to choose their seats according to themed interests.

Wednesday's train contained special compartments for knitting, Christmas crafts, English speakers, startup networkers and one for board games.

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Germany's rail sector was liberalized in 1994 but it remains dominated by Deutsche Bahn which carries more than 5.5 million passengers a day in Germany. 

King of the rails

DB boss Rüdiger Grube unveiled the new train in Berlin. The ICE is one of Germany's best-known brands. DB says surveys indicate 100 percent name recognition for its flagship high-speed rail service. The ICE accounts for only around 8-10 percent of sales, but it lends prestige to DB's brand.

The newest model

The public saw the ICE 4 (on the right) for the first time in Berlin last December. It stood alongside a current-generation ICE 3. The new model will enter testing this autumn. The ICE 4 ist just under 350 meters long and has 830 seats.

Roomy inside

DB could have easily fit 1,000 passengers on the train - but it decided to emphasize passenger comfort. It offers more legroom, space for luggage, and extra places for wheelchair users.

Energy saver

Despite its high speed and capacity, the train is relatively quiet. Energy consumption per passenger is 22 percent lower than the first-generation ICE a quarter of a century ago. But its top speed is 250 kilometers per hour - 50 km/h less than the ICE 3 - as it's not intended for use on the very fastest routes.

Illustrious predecessor

The Trans Europ Express (TEE) network set the standard for express trains in Western Europe when it was set up in 1957. The exclusively first class service ran for 30 years. Shown here is the West German "Rheingold" TEE train.

Tourist attraction

This is how the "Rheingold" looked on the inside - this is the restaurant car. Tourists and rail fans alike can still experience this 1960s luxury today on nostalgia rail trips.

Flying trains

Faced with competition from cars and planes, German railways in the 1930s increasingly used diesel trains instead of steam. The aerodynamically styled "flying trains" entered service in 1933 and drastically cut journey times. A new passenger service was formed that evolved into today's ICE network.

Fast as lightning

The first tests of fast electric trains began in 1903. A Siemens railcar reached 210 kilometers per hour on a test track near Berlin. But development didn't begin in earnest until after World War I.

International competiton

France's TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) has been in operation since 1981. It holds numerous speed records, with the AGV version reaching a whopping 574 kilometers per hour in 2007. (In service, top speed is 320 km/h.) It's been an export hit, with TGV-based trains in Germany, Belgium, Britain, Switzerland and Italy.

From Beijing to Shanghai at 380 km/h

The fastest rail line in commercial service is in China - Between Beijing and Shanghai, trains reach 380 kilometers per hour. A Velaro Harmony CRH 380A trainset reached 486 km/h during testing in 2010.

Number one with a bullet

Japan's Shinkansen, sometimes called the "bullet train," was the first modern high-speed train. It entered service in 1964, in time for the Tokyo Olympics, with a service speed of 210 kilometers per hour. Today's models are even faster, reaching 320 km/h.

No pressure

The Hyperloop is a California-designed concept for a high-speed train that could reach over 1,200 kilometers per hour. It would travel through specially built partial-vacuum tubes to reduce wind resistance. Air jets would lift it off the floor, eliminating wheel friction.