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Transport Research Arena 2014, Paris

Energy-efficient urban rail systems: strategies for an optimal

management of regenerative braking energy
A. Gonzlez-Gila,*, R. Palacina, P. Battya, J.P. Powella
NewRail Newcastle Centre for Railway Research. Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

Urban rail plays a key role in the sustainable development of metropolitan areas for several reasons such as its
high capacity, energy efficiency and lack of local air pollution. However, in order to address the increasing
capacity demand and rising energy costs, while maintaining/enhancing its service quality, considerable energy
efficiency improvements must be achieved. The recovery and reuse of braking energy is one of the most
promising measures to reduce urban rail energy consumption, on account of the numerous and frequent stops
involved. This paper provides a comprehensive assessment and comparison of the solutions currently available
for the recovery and optimal management of regenerative braking energy in urban rail. It discusses different
strategies to increase the interchange of regenerated energy between trains, analyses the main features of both
on-board and stationary energy storage systems, and evaluates reversible substations as a means to return the
surplus regenerated energy into the upstream distribution network.
Keywords: urban rail; regenerative braking; energy savings; energy storage; reversible substation; timetable
Rail urbain joue un rle cl dans le dveloppement durable des rgions mtropolitaines pour plusieurs raisons
telles quune haute capacit, de l'efficacit nergtique et de l'absence de pollution locale de l'air. Toutefois, afin
de faire face l'augmentation de la demande et la hausse des cots de l'nergie, tout en maintenant ou en
amliorant sa qualit de service, d'importantes amliorations de l'efficacit nergtique doit tre atteint. La
rcupration et la rutilisation de l'nergie du freinage est l'une des mesures les plus prometteuses pour rduire la
consommation d'nergie en raison des nombreuses et arrts frquents caractrisant ces systmes. Ce document
fournit une valuation complte et une comparaison des solutions disponibles actuellement pour la rcupration
et la optimale gestion de l'nergie du freinage dans ces systmes. Il examine les diffrentes stratgies en vue
d'accrotre l'change d'nergie rgnre entre les trains, analyse les principales fonctionnalits des systmes de
stockage d'nergie, et value les postes lectriques rversibles comme un moyen de retourner l'nergie rcupre
dans le principal rseau de distribution.
Mots-cl: Rail urbain ; freinage lectrodynamique par rcupration; conomies d'nergie; stockage dnergie;
rversible postes; optimisation du calendrier.

Stephenson buildingSchool of Mechanical and Systems Engineering, NE1 7RU, United Kingdom Tel.: +44(0)1912228657
E-mail address: arturo.gonzalez@ncl.ac.uk.

A. Gonzlez-Gil, R. Palacin, P. Batty, J.P. Powell / Transport Research Arena 2014, Paris

1. Introduction
Metropolitan transportation is responsible for about 25% of the total CO 2 emissions in the European Union (EU)
(European Commission, 2011). Additionally, high levels of air pollution and congestion are major issues related
to transport in urban areas. Therefore, in a worldwide context of growing urbanisation, the implementation of
efficient, reliable and environmentally friendly transport systems becomes imperative: not only to meet the
international agreements on GHG emissions reduction, but to improve liveability in urban areas.
Urban rail appears to be an excellent solution to reduce the impact of urban mobility because of its high transport
capacity, safety, reliability and great environmental performance (Vuchic, 2007). However, in a context
characterised by growing capacity demands and rising energy costs, and where other transportation sectors such
as automotive are notably improving their environmental performance, it is crucial that urban rail reduces its
energy consumption. Otherwise, it might risk losing its advantageous position at the forefront of sustainable
solutions for urban mobility.
Urban rail typically includes tramway, light rail, metro and commuter rail systems. They offer different levels of
service, but they are all characterised by being electrically powered and by presenting short distances between
stations (with the exception of some regional rail systems using diesel traction, which are out of the scope of this
work). Hence, a very significant portion of traction energy is wasted in the numerous and frequent braking
processes. Given that electric motors can also perform as generators while braking, urban rail offers a great
potential for energy savings through the recovery and reuse of braking energy, which is known as regenerative
braking. Some studies have shown that this technology could potentially reduce the energy consumption of
urban rail between 10% and 45%, depending on the track gradients and the service characteristics (Adinolfi et
al., 1998), (Falvo et al., 2011), (Lee et al., 2011).
Most modern urban rail systems are equipped with regenerative braking technology. In those systems, the
recovered energy is primarily used to supply the auxiliary functions of the rolling stock itself, whilst the excess
energy is returned to the distribution line to power other vehicles within the network. However, as the energy
demand of auxiliaries is relatively minor and the simultaneous braking and acceleration of different vehicles in
the same electric section is unlikely to occur, a significant amount of the braking energy is dissipated into
resistors. Note that most of urban rail systems are powered by direct current (DC) networks which are less
receptive than alternating current (AC) networks, and therefore cannot always absorb the regenerated energy fed
This paper provides a general overview of the most promising technologies and strategies that maximise the
recovery and use of regenerative braking in urban rail. This includes: optimising the service timetables to
increase the number of vehicles accelerating and braking simultaneously; using stationary and/or on-board
energy storage systems (ESSs); and returning the recovered energy surplus to the upstream (AC) network. A
discussion on the main advantages and disadvantages of each solution is given alongside a list of the most
relevant examples of real-life application. This papers aims at creating a detailed base of information to promote
awareness, whilst encouraging future research and implementation of regenerative braking as a means to
increase the competitiveness of urban rail.
2. Timetable optimisation to maximise energy interchange between rail vehicles
Synchronising the accelerating and braking of different trains by means of timetable optimisation is a relatively
cheap but effective solution to maximise the use of regenerative braking within urban rail systems. This solution
leads to straightforward traction energy savings, but also helps cut the power peaks caused by simultaneous
acceleration of several trains in the system. The effect of this measure will be more noticeable in dense urban
networks, where there is a higher likelihood of matching accelerating and braking phases with less influence in
the service timetables.
The optimisation of current timetables to increase the inter-vehicle recovery in urban rail has been proposed by
several authors. For instance Nasri et al. (2010) developed an optimisation method that, based on a Genetic
Algorithm, determines the optimum values of the reserve time which maximise the use of regenerative braking

A. Gonzlez-Gil, R. Palacin, P. Batty, J.P. Powell / Transport Research Arena 2014, Paris

within the system. Traction energy savings of up to 14% were reported to be achievable by applying this
methodology to a particular metro system. In turn, Pea-Alcaraz et al. (2011) have proposed a new timetable for
line 3 of Madrid metro system by solving a mixed-integer optimisation problem. After one week of real-life
application, a mean energy saving of 3% was achieved, although the authors claim that this figure could be as
high as 7% if slightly relaxed timetable constraints were applied. Lastly, it is worth mentioning the case of
Rennes metro system, where annual savings of 12% were obtained by optimising the frequency of service and
the stop durations (Boizumeau et al., 2011).
An optimum implementation of this measure will require a real time control system advising drivers on both
departure times and best driving strategies. Besides, that control system should automatically recalculate the
schedule in case of unforeseen events such as delays and minor incidents. The relatively low investment costs
associated with this measure, especially if compared with the installation of ESSs or reversible substations,
makes it a primary option to increase the benefits of regenerative braking in urban rail.
3. Energy storage systems
The outstanding advances in both power electronics and energy storage technologies have permitted ESSs to
become a very promising option to manage regenerated braking energy in urban rail. ESSs can be installed either
on board vehicles or at specific points along the track. The former option enables rail vehicles to temporarily
store their own braking energy and reuse it for subsequent acceleration. In turn, stationary ESSs accumulate
energy from any braking train nearby and release it when a power demand is detected.
The selection of energy storage technologies for ESSs depends on the particular needs of each case but, in
general, urban rail applications will call for the following features:
large number of load cycles
high power capacities
intermediate energy storage capacity (although it may be high for on-board systems)
reduced weight and volume (especially for on-board systems)
Currently, the main technologies meeting these requirements are electrochemical double layer capacitors
(EDLCs), composite flywheels, and Li-ion and NiMH batteries (Vazquez et al., 2010).
3.1. On-board energy storage systems
On-board ESSs undoubtedly offer a high energy saving potential for urban rail. In this sense, a few scientific
studies have demonstrated that the traction energy consumption could be reduced by approximately 15% to 35%
in existing systems, see for instance (Barrero et al., 2010), (Domnguez et al., 2011) or (Chymera et al., 2008).
Additionally, on-board ESSs may help minimise power peaks during acceleration of vehicles, which results in
reduced energy costs and fewer resistive losses in the distribution line (Iannuzzi and Tricoli, 2010). Furthermore,
they may be designed to help stabilise the network voltage (Cicarelli et al., 2012) or also to provide a certain
degree of autonomy for catenary-free services, for instance in lines going through historical city centres (Allgre
et al., 2010).
When compared to stationary systems, on-board ESSs present higher efficiency due to the absence of line losses.
Moreover, the management of the recovered energy is simpler as the control is independent of traffic conditions.
However, mobile storage devices typically require large spaces on the vehicle and introduce a considerable
increase of weight. For these reasons, the installation of on-board ESSs is preferred for brand-new designs rather
than for retrofitting of current fleets.
Table 1 lists the principal on-board ESSs developed by railway manufactures, together with some of their main
features and examples of application in urban rail, when available (note that different characteristics may be
found for the case of commercially available systems). As can be seen, most of the systems are based on the
EDLC technology, which seems to be a very suitable option for these kinds of systems due to its fast
charge/discharge response, high power density and relatively low costs. However, the low energy capacity
offered by EDLCs hinders their utilisation in systems primarily designed to provide a large degree of autonomy.
In these cases, high power batteries such as Li-ion or NiMH ones may be a better option, especially if higher

A. Gonzlez-Gil, R. Palacin, P. Batty, J.P. Powell / Transport Research Arena 2014, Paris

power densities, longer lifecycle and reduced costs are achieved as expected. Composite flywheels present
satisfactory cycle life and power density, while offering fast responses. However their potential risk of explosive
shattering in case of a catastrophic failure has hindered their application in urban rail (Thompson et al., 2005).
Interestingly, Alstom are currently collaborating with Williams Hybrid Power in a new attempt to adapt this
technology successfully proven in Formula One cars and buses to tramway vehicles (Railway Gazette News,
Lastly, the combination of high power batteries and EDLCs appears to be a promising solution for applications
where catenary-free operation is sought. Here, EDLCs can absorb the peaks of regenerated braking energy and
deliver the power required for acceleration, whereas batteries can absorb the remaining braking energy and
release it during coasting/rolling phases, which will increase their life and performance.
Table 1. On-board ESSs developed by railway manufacturers
Brand name



Technology Main features*

Application in urban rail


Bombardier EDLC

PC: 300 kW
SC: 1 kWh
W: 450 kg
D: 1700 x 680 x 450

Sitras MES



PC: 288 kW
Commercially available. Examples in
SC: 0.85 kWh
Innsbruck tramway.
W: 820 kg
D: 2000 x 1520 x 630




SC: 0.8 kWh
W: 800 kg
D: N/A

(CAF, 2012)
Commercially available. Examples in
Seville, Saragossa and Granada tramway
systems, in service.




SC: 0.8 kWh
W: 800 kg
D: N/A

Prototype testes Paris tramway, tested

from 2009 to 2010.

& Cohuau,


Alstom &


PC: 325 kW
SC: 4 kWh
W: 1600 kg
D: N/A

Prototype tests in Rotterdam in 2004



LRV Swimo



PC: 250 kW
SC: 120 kWh
W: 3200 kg
D: N/A

Prototype tests in Sapporo Municipal

Transport network, 2007 2008.

(Ogasa, 2010)




SC: 40 kWh
W: 3200 kg
D: N/A

Prototype tests in Charlotte, 2010.

News, 2011)

Sitras HES



PC: 288 + 105 kW

MTS light rail system in south Lisbon, in (Meinert,
service since 2008.
SC: 0.85 + 18 kWh
W: 820 + 826 kg
D: 2000 x 1520 x 630
1670 x 1025 x 517

Commercially available. Examples in

(Steiner et al.,
Mannheim LRV, in service 20032007; 2007)
Rhein-Neckar-Verkehr GmbH tramway,

(*) PC = Power capacity, SC = Storage capacity, W = Weight, D = Dimensions (width x depth x height) in mm

3.2. Stationary energy storage systems

Trackside ESSs collect the regenerated braking energy that cannot be instantaneously consumed in the system,
delivering it when a voltage drop is detected in the line, e.g. when a vehicle is accelerating in its electric section.
Therefore, these kinds of systems can be used to reduce the traction energy consumption of the system
potential energy savings from 15% to 35% have been reported by Barrero et al. (2010) and Teymourfar et al.

A. Gonzlez-Gil, R. Palacin, P. Batty, J.P. Powell / Transport Research Arena 2014, Paris

(2012), for instance but also to stabilise the network (Iannuzzi et al., 2012a), which represents a major
advantage over reversible substations. Furthermore, they contribute to shave power peaks during accelerations
and may offer a certain degree of autonomy for trains to reach the nearest station in case of upstream power
supply failure.
In comparison with on-board devices, they have fewer installation restrictions as space and weight are normally
not a big issue in trackside facilities. Besides, their maintenance do not affect the service. In contrast, stationary
ESSs involve higher transmission losses in the line, which calls for a careful study to determine the optimum
position of the storage devices within the network (Iannuzzi et al., 2012a).
The range of energy storage technologies suitable for stationary systems is wider than for mobile devices. As
shown in Table 2, EDLC-based systems are the most commonly commercialised nowadays. Notwithstanding,
the fewer weight and volume restrictions make high-power batteries a valid option too. Moreover, the safety
concerns related to flywheels are less limiting in trackside applications, as they can be confined in heavy
containers or even underground. In fact, three stationary ESSs using composite flywheels are currently available
for urban rail applications.
Table 2. Trackside ESSs developed by international manufacturers
Brand name


Technology Main features*

Application in urban rail


Sitras SES



SV: 600/750 V
PC: 700 kW
SC: 2.5 kWh

Madrid and Cologne, in service since

2003; Beijing metro, in service since
2007; Toronto rail transit, in service
since 2011.



Bombardier EDLC

SV: 600, 750, 1500 V

PC: 650 kW
SC: 1 kWh






SV: 750 V
PC: 3001000 kW
SC: 14 kWh

Lyon tramway, pilot project in 2011.





SV: 5001850 V
PC:7504500 kW
SC: 0.816.5 kWh

Warsaw metro, to be implemented;

Philadelphia transit system, pilot
project in 2012 (battery-based).

(ABB, 2012)




PC: 2000 kW max

Hong Kong metro, to be delivered.

News, 2012)




SV: 400, 1000 V

PC: 1000 kW
SC: 5 kWh

Hannover and Rennes metro systems,

pilot project in 2004 and 2010,

et al., 2011)

GTR system



SV: 570900 V
PC: 200 kW
SC: 1.5 kWh

London metro, pilot project in 2000;

New York City transit system, pilot
project in 2002; Lyon metro, pilot
project in 2003-2004.





PC: 500 kW

Los Angeles metro, to be delivered





SV: 600, 1500 V

SC: 150400 kWh

New York City Transit network, pilot

project in 2010; Osaka City Subway,
tested in 2007.





SV: 600/750, 1500 V

PC: 5002000 kW

Kobe transit system, pilot project in

2005 and regular service since 2007;
Macau metro system, to be delivered.

(Shimada et
al., 2010)




SV: 700 V
PC: 9001500 kW
SC: 600400 kWh

Philadelphia transit system, pilot

project in 2012.


(*) SV: Supply voltage, PC = Power capacity, SC = Storage capacity

A. Gonzlez-Gil, R. Palacin, P. Batty, J.P. Powell / Transport Research Arena 2014, Paris

4. Reversible substations
Reversible substations also known as inverting or bidirectional substations include inverters that enable a
bidirectional power flow in DC networks. This implies that all the regenerated energy that is not consumed
within the system can be driven back to the upstream AC grid. Thus, it can be used in the operators network to
power escalators, HVAC equipment, lighting systems, etc. or it can also send back to the public grid. Reversible
substations are primarily designed to maximise the braking energy fed back to the upstream network, but they
should still prioritise the exchange of regenerated energy between vehicles. Likewise, they are required to
minimise the level of harmonics in order to ensure a good quality of the power returned to the AC network.
Several studies have demonstrated that this technology may save up to 714% in urban rail systems, see for
instance (Warin et al., 2011), (Cornic, 2011) and (Ortega, 2011).
Reversible substations operate with fewer transformation losses than ESSs, although the resistive losses in the
line may be major depending upon the substations location (Mellitt et al., 1984). Furthermore, they offer the
capability of full braking energy recovery because AC lines are permanently receptive. However, they do not
permit catenary-free operation and they cannot be used for voltage stabilisation or power peak reduction
purposes. One of the main barriers for the use of reversible substations in urban rail may be their relatively high
investment costs. Nevertheless, their payback period would be significantly reduced if the recovered energy
could be sold back to the energy provider (Gelman, 2009).
Given the potential offered by reversible substations to reduce the overall energy consumption in urban rail,
international railway manufacturers have been investing in their development for the last years. As shown in
Table 3, there are currently four different systems available on the market. Although their real-life
implementation has been limited so far, an increasing interest among urban rail operators appears to be
Table 3. Reversible substations currently available on the market
Brand name


Main features*

Application in urban rail




NV: 750 V
PC: 0.3 MW

In service in RATPs tram line T1, Paris; to be IN in

London Underground and Milan Metro.

(Cornic, 2011)

Sitras TCI


NV: 750, 1500 V

PC: 1.5, 2.2 MW

Tested in Oslo Metros Holmenkollen Line; to be

deployed in Singapores Downtown Line.

(Siemens, 2011)



NV: 1500 V
PC: 1.5 MW

Tested in Bilbao metro system since 2009; recently

installed in Bielefeld light rail network.

(Ortega, 2011)

NV: 600/750 V
PC: 0.51.0 MW

To be installed in Ld tramway system.

(ABB, 2013)


(*) NV: Nominal voltage, PC = Power capacity

5. Conclusions
This paper has provided a general overview of the most promising technologies and strategies currently available
for an optimal management of regenerative braking in urban rail. This has included a discussion on timetable
optimisation methodologies, on-board and trackside ESSs and reversible substations, alongside the most relevant
examples of real-life application.
Increasing the exchange of energy between trains through timetable optimisation has been identified as a primary
option to maximise the use of regenerative braking within urban rail systems, as it allows for significant traction
energy savings at reduced investment costs. However, its application might be limited by service requirements
and the effects of disruptions.
ESSs have proven success as valid solutions to manage the regenerated energy that cannot be instantaneously
consumed within the system. Aside from important traction energy savings, they may significantly contribute to
shave power peaks and to stabilise the network voltage. In general, EDLCs are considered to be the most

A. Gonzlez-Gil, R. Palacin, P. Batty, J.P. Powell / Transport Research Arena 2014, Paris

adequate technology for these systems, although the combination of EDLCs and high-power batteries offers very
interesting features for on-board applications that require high degrees of autonomy.
Sending the excess regenerated energy to the upstream AC network through reversible substations is also a very
interesting alternative to reduce the energy consumption of urban rail systems. However, the economic viability
of these systems may strongly depend on the capability to sell the regenerated energy to the public network
This paper concludes that, despite the proven advantages of regenerative braking technologies, their use in urban
rail remains unexploited. A few ESSs and reversible substations are available on the market, but the lack of reallife experience on those systems performance and return of investment seems to be hindering their extensive
implementation in urban rail. Although future research advances (especially in energy storage technologies) are
expected to improve the features of current systems whilst reducing their costs, a wider use of regenerative
braking in urban rail primarily requires stronger collaboration and share of experiences between operators,
manufacturers and research boards.
This research work has been performed within the framework of the OSIRIS project (Optimal Strategy to
Innovate and Reduce energy consumption In urban rail Systems), partially funded by the Seventh Framework
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