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Regulator nod for Rio auto trains

Rio Tinto’s ambitious project to run its Pilbara, Western Australia iron ore pit-to-port supply chain with crewless trains has taken a major step forward.

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Rio operates about 200 locomotives in the Pilbara
Rio operates about 200 locomotives in the Pilbara

In mid-May, Australia’s Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator granted accreditation to the autonomous operation of the trains, known as the AutoHaul project. Notwithstanding the concept was first launched in 2012, and had been expected to be completed in 2015, Rio Tinto said it “continues to progress, and is on schedule to be completed by the end of 2018”.


The company continued: “Rio Tinto will take a phased approach to deploying autonomous trains across the network in the lead up to full commissioning. Once commissioned, the network will be the world’s first heavy-haul, long-distance autonomous rail operation, unlocking significant safety and productivity benefits for the business.”


Originally proposed as a US$518M project AutoHaul’s cost has ballooned out to more than US$940M, reportedly due mainly to software issues. Trains started running in autonomous mode with a driver on board monitoring operations in the first quarter of 2017.


At the end of the first quarter of 2018, approximately 65% of all train kilometres were completed in autonomous mode, the company said. More than 3M km have now been completed in this mode.


Rio Tinto operates about 200 locomotives on more than 1,700 km of track in the Pilbara, transporting ore from 16 mines to four port terminals.

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