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The $940 million AutoHaul programme is focused on automating trains transporting iron ore to Rio Tinto’s port facilities in the Pilbara region of Western Australia

Rio Tinto achieves first delivery of iron ore with world’s largest robot

Rio Tinto, one of the world’s largest metals and mining corporations, has achieved a significant milestone with the first delivery of iron ore by an autonomous train in the Pilbara, Western Australia.

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The autonomous train, consisting of three locomotives and carrying around 28,000 tonnes of iron ore, travelled over 280 km from Rio Tinto’s mining operations in Tom Price to the port of Cape Lambert on 10 July. It was monitored remotely by operators from Rio Tinto’s operations centre in Perth more than 1500 km away.

The inaugural journey is a significant milestone for Rio Tinto’s AutoHaul™ programme and follows regulatory approval in May. AutoHaul is on schedule to be complete by the end of this year, unlocking significant safety and productivity gains for the business, as well as optimising the company’s iron ore system by providing more flexibility and reducing bottlenecks.

Ivan Vella, Rio Tinto Iron Ore managing director, rail, port & core services, says: “The safe first delivery of iron ore by an autonomous train is a key milestone for AutoHaul. The programme will deliver the world’s first fully autonomous, long-distance, heavy-haul rail network, operating the world’s largest and longest robots.

“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 will continue to ensure our autonomous trains operate safely under the wide range of conditions we experience in the Pilbara, where we record more than 8 million km of train travel each year. 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.”

The AutoHaul programme

The AU$940 million AutoHaul programme is focused on automating trains transporting iron ore to Rio Tinto’s port facilities in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Once commissioned, the network will be the world’s first heavy-haul, long-distance autonomous rail operation. 

Rio Tinto operates about 200 locomotives on more than 1700 km of track in the Pilbara, transporting ore from 16 mines to four port terminals. The average return distance of these trains is about 800 km with the average journey cycle, including loading and dumping, taking about 40 hours. 

Locomotives carrying AutoHaul software are fitted with onboard cameras allowing for constant monitoring from the operations centre. All public rail crossings on the network are fitted with CCTV cameras and have been upgraded to the highest safety standards.

Watch a video of the first fully autonomous train run here


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