The company had previously announced that it would move towards fully automatic train operation at a cost of $US 371m, but abandoned the project due to market uncertainty in the wake of the global financial crisis.
rio-tinto.jpgAutoHaul is being pioneered as part of the automation component of Rio Tinto's Mine of the Future programme, which also includes driverless trucks and autonomous drills.
The company's rail network has expanded to 1500km on which it currently runs 41 trains comprising 148 locomotives and 9400 iron ore wagons.
Rio Tinto says that automating train operations will allow it to expand its Pilbara production capacity without needing to make substantial investments in additional trains. Up to 500 drivers are expected to be affected by the changes.
A $US 3.4bn expansion of Rio Tinto's Pilbara mining activities is also planned, including $US 1.2 billion investment in rail and port infrastructure, which will increase overall production capacity by more than 50% to 353 million tonnes by 2015.
Subject to a number of State government and other approvals, the first driverless train will be launched in 2014, with the AutoHaul automated train programme scheduled for completion a year later.
Report by Mark Carter