Rio Tinto has completed the first fully autonomous rail journey at its iron ore operations in the Pilbara region of Western Australia as it progresses toward full commissioning of the AutoHaul project in late 2018.
A pilot run of almost 100km from Wombat Junction to Paraburdoo was completed without a driver on board, making it the first fully autonomous heavy haul train journey in Australia.
The journey was monitored in real time by Rio Tinto teams and representatives of the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator.
Full commissioning of AutoHaul will be dependent on meeting relevant safety and acceptance criteria and obtaining regulatory approvals.
“This successful pilot run puts us firmly on track to meet our goal of operating the world’s first fully-autonomous heavy haul, long distance rail network, which will unlock significant safety and productivity benefits for the business,” Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Chris Salisbury said.
“Gains from AutoHaul are already being realised including reduced variability and increased speed across the network, helping to reduce average cycle times.
“Rio Tinto is proud to be a leader in innovation and autonomous technology in the global mining industry which is delivering long-term competitive advantages as we build the mines of the future. New roles are being created to manage our future operations and we are preparing our current workforce for new ways of working to ensure they remain part of our industry.”
Rio Tinto operates about 200 locomotives on more than 1700km of track in the Pilbara, transporting ore from 16 mines to four port terminals.
About 50 per cent of pooled fleet rail kilometres are currently completed in autonomous mode (with drivers on board) and 90 per cent of pooled fleet production tonnes are AutoHaul enhanced.