Rio Tinto completes first fully autonomous rail journey in Western Australia

Mining giant Rio Tinto has announced that it has completed the first fully autonomous rail journey at its iron ore operations in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

The nearly 100 kilometre pilot run was completed without a driver on board, making it the first fully autonomous heavy haul train journey ever completed in Australia according to the company.

The successful pilot run from Wombat Junction to Paraburdoo is a significant step toward full completion of the company’s AutoHaul project, an effort to develop an autonomous heavy haul, long distance railway system.

According to the company, trains began running in autonomous mode in the first quarter of 2017. Currently about 50 per cent of pooled fleet rail kilometres are completed in autonomous mode (with drivers on-board) and 90 percent of pooled fleet production tonnes are AutoHaul enhanced.

rio tinto
Iron ore operations in Western Australia’s Pilbara region

Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Chris Salisbury said “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.

The company currently operates around 200 locomotives on more than 1,700 kilometres of track in the Pilbara, transporting ore from 16 mines to four port terminals.

AutoHaul is part of a wider Mine of the Future initiative – first covered by The Engineer back in 2008 – which is focussed on using automation to meet increasing demand for raw materials whilst minimising energy use.

From the archive: the mine of the future

Inside the mine of the future