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Rio celebrates first driverless train journey

Rio Tinto is celebrating the first delivery of iron ore using its driverless train technology.

The autonomous train, comprising three locomotives and carrying about 28,000 tonnes of iron ore, travelled more than 280 kilometres from Rio Tinto’s mining operations in Tom Price to the port of Cape Lambert on July 10.

It was monitored remotely by operators from Rio Tinto’s Operations Centre in Perth more than 1500km away.

The inaugural journey is a significant milestone for the mining giant’s so-called AutoHaul project and follows regulatory approval in May.

The company says it is on track to roll out driverless trains across its sprawling Pilbara network by the end of the year.

Rio says Autohaul will unlock significant safety and productivity gains for the business, as well as optimising the company’s iron ore system by providing more flexibility and reducing bottlenecks.

The company’s iron ore rail, port and core services boss Ivan Vella said Autohaul would deliver the world’s first fully autonomous, long-distance, heavy-haul rail network, operating the world’s largest and longest robots.

“This program symbolises 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,” he said.

“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 eight million kilometres 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.”

It has taken Rio Tinto 10 years and $US940 million to automate its Pilbara rail network. 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 1700 kilometres of track in the Pilbara, transporting ore from 16 mines to four port terminals.

The average return distance of these trains is about 800 kilometres with the average journey cycle, including loading and dumping, taking about 40 hours.

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