Rio Tinto completes rollout of world-first autonomous iron ore rail operation

Mining Giant creates 'world's largest robot' as its driverless rail network goes live in Pilbara, Western Australia.

Rio Tinto has completed the rollout of its automated rail network in the Pilbara, Western Australia, which is the first heavy-haul, long distance autonomous rail operation in the world.

The $940 million rail project, titled AutoHaul, focuses on automating trains to transport iron between Rio Tinto's various port facilities in Pilbara, Western Australia.

The mining giant gained approval from the National Safety Regulator in May to test its autonomous fleet of trains in Western Australia and conducted its first automated mine-to-port delivery of iron ore in July.

Since completing its first delivery of iron ore via the AutoHaul project in July last year, the mining giant has steadily increased the number of autonomous journey across its iron ore operations in Western Australia.

According to Rio Tinto, over 1 million kilometres have been travelled autonomously throughout the duration of the AutoHaul project.

Rio Tinto began implementing automation into its business over a decade ago, at the time introducing fully autonomous haul trucks as one of the first steps in its Mine of the Future program.   

Currently, the AutoHaul project uses about 200 locomotives on over 1,700 kilometres of track to transport ore from 16 mines to four port terminals in the Pilbara region. The average return distance of these trains is about 800 kilometres with the average journey cycle, including loading and dumping, taking about 40 hours, according to Rio Tinto.

"It's been a challenging journey to automate a rail network of this size and scale in a remote location like the Pilbara, but early results indicate significant potential to improve productivity, providing increased system flexibility and reducing bottlenecks," said Rio Tinto Iron Ore managing director Rail, Port & Core Services Ivan Vella.

The trains are fitted with AutoHaul's on-board cameras that are used by the company's operations centre to constantly monitor train activity.

All public rail crossings on the network are also fitted with CCTV cameras that meet industry safety standards.

The mining giant in March also announced that it would increase its deployment of autonomous trucks, with the mining giant aiming to have over 150 autonomous trucks in its fleet by the end of this year.

"Rio Tinto has led the way in automation and has been on this journey for more than a decade. We've successfully managed the challenges and opportunities that automation technology presents and have a track record of reskilling, upskilling, and redeploying our people," Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Chris Salisbury said at the time of the announcement.

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