Rio Goes Robotic with Autonomous Trains

- December 28th, 2018

Rio Tinto has implemented both the world’s largest robot and the first automated heavy-haul long-distance rail network with its new trains.

Major miner Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO,LSE:RIO,NYSE:RIO) has successfully implemented both the world’s largest robot and the first automated heavy-haul long-distance rail network with its $940-million AutoHaul autonomous train program.

Rio completed its first loaded run on the network in July, and has been gradually increasing the amount of autonomous journeys in what the company refers to as a “controlled and safe manner” ever since.

The railway runs across its iron ore operations in Western Australia, and has now racked up over 1 million kilometers of autonomous travel since the first loaded run.

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“The safe and successful deployment of AutoHaul across our network is a strong reflection of the pioneering spirit inside Rio Tinto,” Ivan Vella, Rio Tinto iron ore managing director of rail, port and core services, said in a statement on Friday (December 28).

He added, “[i]t’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.”

Going forward, the company intends to refine its autonomous operations to “maximize value.” However, the statement from Rio also mentions that the company has no intention of cutting jobs in 2019 as a result of the autonomous trains.

The AutoHaul program was designed to automate trains transporting iron ore to Rio’s port facilities in Western Australia’s Pilbara region. The company transports ore from its 16 mines throughout Western Australia to its four port terminals, and operates 200 locomotives over 1,700 kilometers of railway.

Each train’s average return distance is about 800 kilometers, and takes about 40 hours with the inclusion of loading and dumping. The AutoHaul locomotives come with onboard cameras for continuous monitoring, while public rail crossings on the network are fitted with CCTV cameras.

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Securities Disclosure: I, Olivia Da Silva, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

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