Rio Tinto autonomous train project on track for 2018 launch

Image: Rio Tinto.

Rio Tinto’s AutoHaul project has developed to a stage where it is now autonomously completing more than half of its train journeys in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

The miner continues to ramp up development of its AutoHaul train system with the aim of commissioning the project by the end of next year.

Despite experiencing project delays since AutoHaul was launched in 2012, Rio Tinto said it now undertakes more than 50 per cent of its train kilometres in autonomous mode with drivers on-board for supervision.

The company reported earlier this month that it completed the first fully autonomous rail journey at its WA iron ore operations, a 100km trip between Tom Price and Paraburdoo.

Rio, in its September quarter update, said the AutoHaul project was on schedule for completion by the end of 2018.

“Operational improvements from AutoHaul are already being realised including reduced variability and increased speed across the network, helping to reduce average cycle times,” the company said.

Meanwhile, Rio’s Pilbara iron ore operations produced 241.9 million tonnes (Mt) in the first nine months of 2017, 1 per cent lower than the same period of 2016, mainly due to weather disruptions.

The company’s quarterly iron ore output of 85Mt was 2 per cent higher than the same quarter of 2016 and a 6 per cent improvement on the June quarter.

Rio also opened the Silvergrass mine in the Pilbara during the quarter. The company is on track to commission the Silvergrass conveyor system during the fourth quarter as it ramps up the mine to capacity in 2018.

Chief executive officer Jean-Sébastien Jacques said a wave of productivity improvements have been embedded through the company’s operations.

“In particular, we are making good progress with further improvements to our world-class Pilbara iron ore business, including the opening of the Silvergrass mine and the implementation of AutoHaul,” Jacques said.

Rio’s bauxite output was 12.9Mt for the second consecutive quarter. Its production of aluminium and copper both fell by 3 per cent against the previous quarter.

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