Rio Tinto Deploys Autonomous Train Network at Iron Ore Operations

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Miner Rio Tinto has deployed what it hails as the “first automated heavy-haul, long distance rail network.”

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The rail network is guided by what is billed as the world’s largest robot, called AutoHaul.

“The safe and successful deployment of AutoHaul™ across our network is a strong reflection of the pioneering spirit inside Rio Tinto,” said Ivan Vella, Rio Tinto Iron Ore managing director for Rail, Port & Core Services. “It’s been a challenging journey to automate a rail network of this size and scale in a remote location like the Pilbara, but early results indicate significant potential to improve productivity, providing increased system flexibility and reducing bottlenecks.”

According to a Rio Tinto release, the autonomous rail network has completed over 1 million kilometers of autonomous travel since its first run in July.

The $940 million AutoHaul program is used to automate transport of iron ore to the company’s port facilities in the Pilbara region of western Australia.

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

Automation will continue to be a game-changing factor across industries, metals-centric or otherwise.

Earlier this year, following the first run of the AutoHaul network — during which 28,000 tons of ore traveled over 280 kilometers — Vella laid out what the new program brought to the table and alluded to the changes that would occur for workers.

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“This programme 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. … 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.”

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