BIG miner Rio Tinto is optimistic about the future of autonomous trains following their deployment in the Pilbara.

Rio Tinto says it has successfully deployed AutoHaul, a $940m program focused on automating trains and transporting iron ore to ports on the north-west coast of Western Australia.

Since completing the first loaded run in July, Rio Tinto has increased the number of autonomous journeys, with more than one million kilometres now travelled autonomously.

Rio Tinto Iron Ore managing director rail, port and core services Ivan Vella said the safe and successful deployment of AutoHaul was a strong reflection of a “pioneering spirit”.

“It’s been a challenging journey to automate a rail network of this size and scale in a remote location like the Pilbara, but early results indicate significant potential to improve productivity, providing increased system flexibility and reducing bottlenecks,” Mr Vella said.


“Over the coming months we will continue to refine our autonomous operations to ensure we are able to maximise value,” he said.

Mr Vella said they could work closely with drivers and did not expect to make any redundancies in 2019 as a result of the deployment of AutoHaul.

The network is the world’s first heavy-haul, long distance autonomous rail operation.

Rio Tinto operates about 200 locomotives on more than 1700km of track in the Pilbara, transporting ore from 16 mines to four port terminals.

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