Rio Tinto delivers first iron ore with ‘world’s largest robot’

The AutoHaul loaded train. Image: Rio Tinto.

Rio Tinto’s AutoHaul project in the Pilbara is another step closer to completion after the first delivery of iron ore by an autonomous train this week.

The “world’s largest robot,” as Rio Tinto calls the driverless train, consisted three locomotives with around 28,000t on board.

It travelled more than 280km from Rio Tinto’s mining operations in Tom Price to the Port of Cape Lambert on July 10.

Rio Tinto remains on track to complete the $940 million AutoHaul autonomous train project by the end of the year.

Ivan Vella, Rio Tinto Iron Ore managing director rail, port and core services, said the program would deliver the world’s 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,” Vella 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.”

Rio Tinto operates about 200 locomotives on more than 1700km of track in the Pilbara, transporting ore from 16 mines to four port terminals.

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

Rio Tinto has fitted the locomotives carrying AutoHaul software with on-board cameras to provide constant monitoring from the operations centre. It has also fitted all public rail crossings on the network with CCTV cameras as a safety measure.

“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,” Vella added.

Rio Tinto was granted accreditation for the AutoHaul operation by Australia’s Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) in May. It completed its first autonomous trial run in October 2017.