Rio Tinto has been granted accreditation for its AutoHaul autonomous train operation by Australia’s Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR).
The miner’s ambitious project, which focuses on a world-first heavy haul, long distance autonomous train fleet for the shipment of iron ore to ports in the Pilbara, Western Australia, is expected to be complete by the end of the year.
Rio plans to introduce the new trains gradually across its network as it moves towards full commissioning on the project, which was first launched in 2012 as part of Rio’s ambitious ‘Mine of the Future’ program.
Following significant delays (initial estimates pegged a 2015 project start), testing was carried out last year using the company’s autonomous trains in early 2017 with drivers onboard for monitoring purposes.
The first fully autonomous journey (i.e. with no driver onboard) was completed in October 2017 when an AutoHaul train journeyed nearly 100km from Wombat Junction to Paraburdoo, a significant step towards the realisation of the project.
According to a statement from Rio, by the end of the first quarter of 2018, around 65 per cent of all train kilometres were completed in autonomous mode — around three million kilometres in total.
Rio Tinto is heavily reliant on rail networks for its Australian business, transporting ore from 16 mines to four port terminals across over 1700km of track.