04 October 2017

Mining Company Conducts First Completely Unmanned Rail Freight Run   

Successful 100 Kilometre Test for Rio Tinto Train

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Shipping News Feature AUSTRALIA – One continuing theme which The Handy Shipping Guide has covered on many occasion are developments in, and the spectacular growth of, unmanned freight delivery methods, from road systems to aircraft and even ships. Now mining giant Rio Tinto has demonstrated the first fully autonomous rail journey at its iron ore operations in the Pilbara region of Western Australia as the company progresses toward full commissioning of their AutoHaul project in late 2018.

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. The successful pilot run from Wombat Junction to Paraburdoo. 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. 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.”

The AutoHaul project is focused on automating the trains that transport iron ore to Rio Tinto’s port facilities in the country. Trains started running in autonomous mode, with drivers on board for monitoring, in the first quarter of 2017 and currently about 50% of pooled fleet rail mileage is completed in this fashion.

Rio Tinto operates about 200 locomotives on more than 1,700 kilometres of track in the Pilbara, transporting ore from 16 mines to four port terminals and one can imagine that in the vast empty tracts of the Australian outback the autonomous train, suitably fitted with powerful, high definition cameras, plus an array of sensory devices, may be the first mode of freight carriage destined for both a rapid uptake and a truly long term future.

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