According to The Australian Financial Review, Rio Tinto has successfully sent a driverless iron ore train almost 100 kilometres across the Pilbara in what the company says is the first fully autonomous heavy haul train journey ever completed in Australia.
The pilot run of the miner's new autonomous rail system, called AutoHaul, between the Pilbara towns of Tom Price and Paraburdoo marks the first time a Rio train has travelled without driver assistance or a driver monitoring from on board.
The Autohaul project, which envisages converting almost all of Rio's 200 Pilbara locomotives into driverless mode, was approved in 2012 with a $US518 million budget. After a number of technical setbacks, the project is running more than two years behind schedule and is estimated to be significantly over budget. It is now expected to be completed by the end of 2018.
"This successful pilot run puts us firmly on track to meet our goal of operating the world's first fully autonomous heavy haul, long distance rail network, which will unlock significant safety and productivity benefits for the business," Rio Tinto iron ore chief executive Chris Salisbury said.
"Gains from AutoHaul are already being realised including reduced variability and increased speed across the network, helping to reduce average cycle times."
Rio's trains started running in autonomous mode in the first quarter of 2017 and about 50 per cent of the rail kilometres travelled by its fleet are now completed in autonomous mode with drivers on board.
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