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After the second world war only a couple of L and FD trains were in service in the internationale long-distance services. Later also a couple of international F-trains went into service.

But in 1957 something changed. The former director of the Dutch national railways, ir F.Q. den Hollander proposed a new plan for an international network of fast and luxurious (diesel) trainsets in western Europe.

The railway companies of Western Germany (DB), France (SNCF), Switserland (SBB-CFF-FFS), Italy (FS) and the Netherlands (NS) agreed on this plan. The first TEE trains were going into service with the summer timetable on 2 June 1957. Initially the network was managed by the railway companies of Western Germany (DB), France (SNCF), Switserland (SBB-CFF-FFS), Italy (FS) and the Netherlands (NS). Besides these countries there were also countries which gave the TEE trains only passage through their countries, among them were Belgium (NMBS-SNCB) and Luxemburg (CFL). In 1964 Belgium and Luxemburg also joined the TEE network.

The principles of the TEE were based on a couple of basic ideas, which mainly in the beginning were fulfilled, later the railway companies abandoned some of these basic principles. The TEE was based on the following principles:

  • Diesel traction
    Due to many different currents used by each country for the catenary, the idea was to use only diesel traction, because this could decrease the delay at the borders caused by changing locomotives. Also many railway lines which crossed the borders in that time were not electrified. In 1961 this principle was abandoned when the Swiss railways built a trainset for the TEE network which was capable of running on four different currents systems.
  • Trainsets
    The next principle was the use of trainsets instead of trains consisted of a locomotive with coaches. But this caused a lot of delay in endstations because another locomotive had to couple to the other end of the train. When using a trainset you don't have these problems. But because trainset were/are not so flexible in number of seats, you couldn't easily couple extra coaches when you need extra seats, so this leaded soon to dropping this principle by using trains with a locomotives and coaches. Mainly on the relation Paris-Brussel-Amsterdam this dilemma showed up because the part Paris-Brussel was very busy and the part Brussel-Amsterdam was very quiet. Because of that in 1963 they decided to use pulled trains on this relation, and abandoned also this principle.
  • International
    Originally it was the intention that the TEE network only offered international relations. This principle was abandoned in 1965 with the introduction of the French Le Mistral and the German Blauer Enzian as TEE trains. Both trains were operating on domestic relations and were upgraded to TEE trains. The reason for this was clear, in these countries there were many relations which were much longer than some international TEE relations.
  • Luxurious rolling stock
    This principle is never abandoned. The railway companies used luxurious, first class trains with dining facilities on all TEE relations. In principle all rolling stock was special made for the TEE trains.
  • Customs without delays
    In the time of the introduction of the TEE mostly all trains travelers must get out of the train for the control of their passports at the border. This resulted in long delays at the borders. In TEE trains the customs officers came in the train to check the passports, this resulted in short delays at the borders.
  • Daily connections
    The TEE network offered daily train connections. This was a simple and effective concept for the public, each day a TEE train on each relation. This principle was abandoned in 1968 with the introduction of TEE Le Lyonnais. Later there came more and more TEE trains which not operated on each day of the year and were only in service in the summers or during other peak periods.

During the years, the TEE network grew bigger and bigger and three more countries were added, among them were: Spain (RENFE), Denmark (DSB) and Austria (OBB) until the network reached it's peak in 1974.

With the start in 1957 the following TEE trains were in service to and from Germany:

  • TEE ZH 77/HZ 78 Helvetia Hamburg-Zürich
  • TEE 31/32 Rhein-Main Frankfurt/M-Amsterdam
  • TEE 168 Ruhr-Paris Dortmund-Parijs
  • TEE 185 Paris-Ruhr Parijs-Dortmund
  • TEE 74/75 Saphir Dortmund-Brussel-Oostende

TEE Helvetia had until the winter of 62/63 in Switzerland the indication ZH 77/78 and in Germany TEE 77/78.

In the fifties the DB built special diesel trainsets of class VT 11.5 especially for the TEE network. Because there was not much time for construction there were not innovative techniques used in the trainsets.

A trainset consisted of the following parts: a motorunit, a compartment coach, a saloncoach, a dining coach with bar and without kitchen, a dining coach with kitchen and dining and another motorunit. The trainsets could be extended with more coaches until a ten part trainset. The trainsets were also suitable for the ferryboats to Denmark and Sweden. The DB could put together 9 trainsets.

The first trainsets were delivered on 15 May 1957 in the AW Nürnberg. After the first testruns and the presentation for the press, the first services started in June 1957. The trainsets were in service in all TEE trains to and from Germany.

The first TEE trains from Germany started on 2 June 1957 with the summer timetable. The first weeks the trainsets of class VT 08.5 were in service in the TEE trains because the trainsets VT 11.5 were not all delivered. After a couple of weeks all TEE services were done with trainsets of class VT 11.5.

Already with the winter timetable of 57/58 two TEE trains were added. TEE 155/190 Parsifal (Paris-Dortmund), TEE 393/394/TS 76/TEE 76 and TEE 75/TS 75/TEE 395/396 Mediolanum (München-Milan). This last one was on the relation Milan - Verona TEE 393, and from Verona to the Italian border it was TEE 394. In Austria the trains was indicated as TS 76 and in Germany as TEE 76.

The number of TEE trains remained constant for a couple of years. But with the start of the summer timetable on 30 May 1965 a couple of F-trains became TEE trains. F 9/10 Rheingold became TEE 9/10 Rheingold, F 21/22 Rheinpfeil became TEE 21/22 Rheinpfeil and F 55/56 Blauer Enzian became TEE 55/56 Blauer Enzian.

These changed also meant that from that date not anymore only trainsets were in service in the TEE network. Also pulled trains with coaches came now into service with the conversion of above F trains in TEE trains. The three new TEE trains consisted all of the in 1962/63 and 1965 built new express train coaches of type Rheingold. The F-trains coaches which were now used for the TEE network were painted in TEE colors. Because not all coaches were in one go painted in the new colors some TEE trains had mixed old and new colors.

From 1965 more and more of these coaches were built for the TEE network. During epoch III there are in total 134 first class TEE coaches built. Among them are compartment coaches, salon coaches, dining coaches, panorama coaches and barcoaches, see also Rheingold/TEE coaches epoch III.

The locomotives which pulled the TEE trains were of type E 10.12-13 the so-called Rheingold locomotives. At the end of epoch III and in epoch IV many TEE trains were also pulled by locomotives E 03/BR 103. There are in total 31 locomotives E 10.12-13 built for the TEE network.

Between 1965 and 1970 the DB converted all TEE trains to pulled trains. Slowly the characteristic TEE trainsets VT 11.5 disappeared from the TEE network. With the winter timetable of 1970/71 also the TEE trains Saphir and Diamant became pulled trains and the last TEE train with a VT 11.5 was on 20 August 1972 TEE mediolanum. After that the trainsets VT 11.5 were only used in the domestic InterCity network.