The company’s 200 locomotives, hauling 2.4km-long trains, are now monitored remotely from an operations centre 1500km away in Perth as they travel along the 1700km-long network, delivering iron-ore from 16 mines to the ports of Dampier and Cape Lambert. The trains have now travelled more than 4.5 million-km autonomously since they were first deployed last year.

The project was undertaken by project partners from Japan, the United States and Australia, including Hitachi Rail, Calibre, New York Air Brake, and GE-Wabtec.

Rio Tinto says early results from the deployment of AutoHaul highlight the technology’s potential to improve productivity, increase flexibility and reduce bottlenecks in its iron-ore system. Rio Tinto’s Pilbara operations are currently being upgraded to adjust in line with market conditions, and the company says AutoHaul is a vital component in increasing flexibility and safety in the system.

The system also removes the need for nearly 1.5 million-km of road movements per year previously required to transport drivers to and from trains mid-journey.

The locomotives are now fitted with AutoHaul safety systems including:

  • Collision Detection Systems (CDS)
  • Automatic Train Protection (ATP) technology, which controls train speed to ensure adherence to speed limits, and
  • an on-board video camera to record the front view from the train.

The average return distance of the trains is about 800km with the average journey cycle, including loading and dumping, taking about 40 hours.