Rio Tinto launches long-awaited AutoHaul trains

Copyright © 2018 Rio Tinto

Rio Tinto has successfully deployed the world’s first automated long-distance rail network, AutoHaul, in the Pilbara after several project delays.

The 2.4-kilometre long trains were monitored remotely from an operations centre in Perth, travelling 1700 kilometres and delivering iron ore from 16 mines to ports in Dampier and Cape Lambert.

AutoHaul has safely travelled over 4.5 million kilometres autonomously since it was first deployed last year.

The project was a success thanks to Rio Tinto’s project partners, including Hitachi Rail, Calibre, New York Air Brake and GE Wabtec, who have provided AutoHaul with the innovation and software.

“The success of AutoHaul would not have been possible without the expertise, collaboration and dedication of teams within Rio Tinto and our numerous partners,” Rio Tinto Iron Ore managing director Rail, Port and Core Services Ivan Vella said.

“I’d also like to commend our train driving workforce for their support and professionalism during the transition period. This project has cemented Western Australia as a leader in the heavy-haul rail industry and has attracted interest from around the world.”

The $940 million project is a world-first and “an example of the strength” of Western Australia’s resources industry, “which continues to excel in technology and innovation,” according to WA Minister for Mines and Petroleum Bill Johnston.

“AutoHaul has brought the rail freight industry in this country into the 21st century and is rightfully the subject of global interest,” Johnston said.

“I’d also like to mention that the development of the world’s biggest robot is such a success because of the contribution from Western Australia’s skilled engineers and innovative workers.”

AutoHaul’s successful deployment demonstrates the potential for significant further improvement in such operations with others around the world looking to replicate, according to Vella.

“This is a new technical benchmark for the freight rail industry worldwide and the result of a long-established and collaborative partnership between Rio Tinto and Hitachi Rail STS,” Hitachi Rail STS president Americas and APAC business unit Michele Fracchiolla said.

“Now that the trains are running autonomously, the levels of continuous improvement that can be achieved in safety, operational efficiency and sustainability are endless, and we look forward to continuing to collaborate with Rio Tinto to enhance the AutoHaul system.”

Rio Tinto reported that early results from the deployment of AutoHaul highlighed the technology’s potential to improve productivity, increase flexibility and reduce bottlenecks in its iron ore system.