Rio Tinto rolls out autonomous trains at iron ore operations04 January 2019

Image credit: Rio Tinto Photo Library (

Global mining group Rio Tinto has deployed AutoHaul, which it says is the world’s largest robot and first automated heavy-haul, long distance rail network.

Since completing the first loaded run in July last year, the company has steadily increased the number of autonomous journeys across its iron ore operations in Western Australia, with more than one million kilometres having now been travelled autonomously.

The AutoHaul programme is focused on automating trains that transport iron ore to Rio Tinto’s port facilities in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

Locomotives carrying AutoHaul software are fitted with on-board cameras that allow for constant monitoring from an operations centre. The average return distance of these trains is about 800 kilometres with the average journey cycle taking around 40 hours.

Ivan Vella, managing director of rail, port and core services at Rio Tinto Iron, explains: “The safe and successful deployment of AutoHaul across our network is a strong reflection of the pioneering spirit inside Rio Tinto.

“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.”

Looking forward, Rio Tinto will continue to refine its autonomous operations to maximise value. The firm adds that it also continues to work closely with drivers and does not expect to make any redundancies in 2019 as a result of the AutoHaul deployment.

Adam Offord

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