Rio Tinto will run the world’s first automated long-distance heavy-haul rail network, with a US$518 million investment (Rio Tinto share US$478 million) in driverless trains.
The first driverless train will be launched in 2014, with the AutoHaulTM automated train programme scheduled for completion a year later.
AutoHaulTM is being pioneered as part of the automation component of Rio Tinto’s Mine of the FutureTM initiative that also includes driverless trucks and autonomous drills. On its 1,500-kilometre rail network, Rio Tinto currently runs 41 trains from mines to ports, comprising 148 locomotives and 9,400 iron ore cars.
Automating train operations allows Rio Tinto to expand Pilbara production capacity without needing to make a substantial investment in additional trains.
It will also drive productivity improvements, with greater flexibility in train scheduling and the removal of driver changeover times creating extra capacity in the rail network. Other benefits include more efficient fuel use, resulting in lower energy costs and a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions for each tonne of iron ore produced.
Rio Tinto chief executive Australia and Iron Ore Sam Walsh said “Rio Tinto is leading the way in large-scale use of automation, with plans to deploy 150 driverless trucks and our plans for AutoHaulTM. Expanding Pilbara iron ore production is a high-return and low-risk investment for Rio Tinto that will enhance shareholder value. Automation will help us meet our expansion targets in a safe, more efficient and cost-effective way.
“Automation also helps us address the significant skills shortage facing the industry, providing a valuable opportunity to improve productivity. However, as we expand our business we will see an overall increase in job numbers and this will provide new opportunities in the rail division and elsewhere. As always, we will engage directly with those affected as we gradually make the transition to automation over the next three years.”
AutoHaulTM and the overall expansion of rail operations are subject to a number of State Government and other approvals.
Source: Rio Tinto