Rio Tinto has successfully deployed AutoHaul™, the world’s first automated heavy-haul long distance rail network in Western Australia.

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Mr. Kevin Michel, Member for Pilbara Australian Labor Party; Hon. Bill Johnston, Minister for Mines and Petroleum; and Mr. Ivan Vella, Rio Tinto Managing Director Rail, Port and Core Services at the AutoHaul event

Joined by representatives from the government of Western Australia and lead project technology partner Hitachi Rail STS, Rio Tinto sees the successful rollout of AutoHaul™ trains, which deliver safety and productivity benefits for Rio Tinto’s iron ore business, to also firmly position Western Australia and its heavy-haul rail industry as a global leader in the joint development and application of rail technology.

The 2.4-kilometre-long trains, monitored remotely from an operations centre in Perth, travel across a vast network of 1,700 kilometres of track, delivering iron ore from 16 mines to ports in Dampier and Cape Lambert. These trains have now safely travelled more than 4.5 million kilometres autonomously since they were first deployed last year.

This world-first was made possible by the close collaboration with project partners from Japan, US and Australia. These include Hitachi Rail, Calibre, New York Air Brake, Wabtec and others who provided the necessary expertise, innovation and software to make AutoHaul™ a success. Several of these partners maintain a strong presence in Western Australia and have committed to continuing to invest locally.

Rio Tinto Iron Ore managing director Rail, Port and Core Services Ivan Vella said the deployment of AutoHaul™ is a reflection of the incredible pioneering spirit of the project team and its valued partners.

“The success of AutoHaul™ would not have been possible without the expertise, collaboration and dedication of teams within Rio Tinto and our numerous partners. 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 successful deployment of the world’s first heavy-haul long distance rail network demonstrates the potential for significant further improvement in such operations with others around the world looking to replicate,” said Mr Vella.

Western Australia Minister for Mines and Petroleum Bill Johnston said the AutoHaul™ 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.

“I’d like to congratulate Rio Tinto, Hitachi and all the other project partners for their hard work and dedication over the past decade to delivering this project, which really cements our State as a global leader in rail technology.

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

Michele Fracchiolla, President Americas and APAC Business Unit, Hitachi Rail STS said that the Companyu was extremely proud of the lead technical and delivery role it played in enabling the deployment of the world’s first fully-autonomous heavy haul, long distance rail operation.

Early results from the deployment of AutoHaul™ highlight the technology’s potential to improve productivity, increase flexibility and reduce bottlenecks in Rio Tinto’s iron ore system. Rio Tinto’s Pilbara operations are being transformed to flex in line with market conditions and AutoHaul™ is a vital component in increasing flexibility and safety in the system.

The AU$940 million AutoHaul™ programme uses automated trains to transport iron ore to Rio Tinto’s port facilities in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, monitored from 1,500 kilometres away in Perth. Rio Tinto operates about 200 locomotives on what is the largest privately-owned rail network in Australia. In December, the deployment of software on Rio Tinto’s locomotives was completed.

Autonomous trains improve safety through reduced risk at level crossings and automated responses to speed restrictions and alarms. AutoHaul™ also removes the need for almost 1.5 million kilometres of road travel per year previously required to transport drivers to and from trains mid-journey.

*Article published in the July-September 2019 issue of The Asia Miner

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