Rio Tinto has deployed the world’s first automated heavy-haul, long distance rail network in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The company claims that its autonomous trains operating under the AutoHaul program are the “world’s largest robot”.
Since completing the first loaded run in July 2018, Rio Tinto has steadily increased the number of autonomous journeys across its iron ore operations in WA, with over one million kilometres now travelled autonomously.
The $940 million program is focused on automating trains transporting iron ore to Rio Tinto’s port facilities in the Pilbara.
The network is the world’s first heavy-haul, long distance autonomous rail operation.
Rio Tinto operates about 200 locomotives on more than 1,700km of track in the Pilbara, transporting ore from 16 mines to four port terminals.
The average return distance of these trains is about 800km with the average journey cycle, including loading and dumping, taking about 40 hours.
Locomotives carrying AutoHaul software are fitted with on-board cameras, allowing for constant monitoring from the company’s Operations Centre. All public rail crossings on the network are fitted with CCTV cameras and have been upgraded to meet safety standards.
Rio Tinto Iron Ore Managing Director – Rail, Port & Core Services, Ivan Vella, said, “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.”
The company aims to refine its autonomous operations with a view to maximising value.
Rio Tinto says it does not expect to make any redundancies in 2019 as a result of the deployment of AutoHaul.