Rio Tinto hits $1.3b Driverless Train Target

Rio Tinto has announced its $1.3 billion Autohaul driverless train program is fully operational 10 years after it was first proposed.

The news means 90% of Rio’s iron ore rail network in the Pilbara will be controlled remotely from its operations centre at Perth Airport.

The company’s shorter Robe River line, servicing the Mesa A and J mines, will continue to operate with drivers at the controls because journeys can be completed without the need for shift changes.

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

The boss of rail, port and core services at Rio’s iron ore division, Ivan Vella, said early results from Autohaul had shown significant potential to improve productivity, increase flexibility and reduce logistical bottlenecks.

It is expected to boost average train speeds by 6% by removing acceleration and braking variations caused by human drivers, but more importantly it will cut hours of downtime in train stoppages when one worker’s shift ends and another’s begins.

It also means Rio won’t have to transport its train drivers 1.5 million kilometres a year back and forth across the Pilbara by road for shift changes.

The company says there has been no forced redundancies as a result of Autohaul, and none expected next year. Train drivers are still needed for yard work, fuel transport and in construction, maintenance and diagnostic roles.

Autohaul is expected to boost Rio’s Pilbara iron ore capacity from 340 million to 360 million tonnes and allow the mining giant to more easily slide its output up and down in response to market conditions.

The news follows Rio’s announcement this month that it had pushed the button on its $US2.6 billion Koodaideri iron ore replacement project in the Pilbara.

The safety of privately owned Pilbara rail networks was in focus last month when a fully laden BHP iron ore train careered 92km without a driver before being deliberately derailed south of Port Hedland.


Source: The West Australian, 28 December 2018