Mining giant Rio Tinto has achieved the first delivery of iron ore with what it describes as “the world’s largest robot”.
The company’s $940 million AutoHaul programme is focused on automating trains transporting iron ore to Rio Tinto’s port facilities in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.
Once commissioned, the network will be the world’s first heavy haul, long distance autonomous rail operation.
Rio Tinto operates about 200 locomotives on more than 1,700 kilometers of track in the Pilbara, transporting ore from 16 mines to four port terminals.
The average return distance of these trains is about 800 kilometers with the average journey cycle, including loading and dumping, taking about 40 hours.
Locomotives carrying AutoHaul software are fitted with onboard cameras allowing for constant monitoring from the operations center.
All public rail crossings on the network are fitted with CCTV cameras and have been upgraded to the highest safety standards.
Rio Tinto says it has “achieved a significant milestone” with this first delivery of iron ore by an autonomous train in Australia.
The autonomous train, consisting of three locomotives and carrying around 28,000 tonnes of iron ore, traveled over 280 kilometers from Rio Tinto’s mining operations in Tom Price to the port of Cape Lambert earlier this month.
It was monitored remotely by operators from Rio Tinto’s Operations Centre in Perth more than 1,500 kilometers away.
The inaugural journey is a significant milestone for Rio Tinto’s AutoHaul programme and follows regulatory approval in May.
AutoHaul is on schedule to complete by the end of the year, unlocking significant safety and productivity gains for the business, as well as optimizing the company’s iron ore system by providing more flexibility and reducing bottlenecks.
Ivan Vella, Rio Tinto iron ore managing director rail, port and core services, says: “The safe first delivery of iron ore by an autonomous train is a key milestone for AutoHaul. The programme will deliver the world’s first fully autonomous, long-distance, heavy-haul rail network, operating the world’s largest and longest robots.
“This programme symbolizes both the pioneering spirit and innovative talents of many people across Rio Tinto and shows our absolute commitment to improving safety and productivity, as well as enabling greater flexibility across our operations.
“We will continue to ensure our autonomous trains operate safely under the wide range of conditions we experience in the Pilbara, where we record more than 8 million kilometers of train travel each year.
“We are working closely with drivers during this transition period as we prepare our employees for new ways of working as a result of automation.”