Rio’s Robots Take on the Pilbara

- July 12th, 2018

The AU$940-million program will see trains delivering iron ore shipments sans humans to port from mine sites across the company’s Pilbara operations.

Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO,NYSE:RIO,LSE:RIO) has successfully achieved delivery from its first fully automated freight train in the Pilbara of Western Australia, the company announced on Thursday (July 13).

The news comes less than two months after it received clearance from the National Rail Safety Regulator in Australia to trial its ‘AutoHaul’ project on its 1,700 km rail network linking its iron ore operations to processing and port facilities.

The company said there were no humans involved in the first robot delivery— except the watchful eyes of a remote team in Perth, 1,500 km away.

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In its release, Rio said that on Tuesday (July 10), the autonomous train carried 28,000 tonnes of iron ore from the Tom Price mine to the port of Cape Lambert, 280 km away.

The company said that its automated train program will be fully rolled out by the end of the year, reducing costs.

“The program will deliver the world’s first fully autonomous, long-distance, heavy-haul rail network, operating the world’s largest and longest robots,” said Ivan Vella, Rio Tinto’s managing director for rail, port and core services.

“This program symbolizes both the pioneering spirit and innovative talents of many people across Rio Tinto and shows our absolute commitment to improving safety and productivity, as well as enabling greater flexibility across our operations.

“We will continue to ensure our autonomous trains operate safely under the wide range of conditions we experience in the Pilbara, where we record more than eight million kilometres of train travel each year.”

Vella said that Rio would be working with drivers over a ‘transition period’ to prepare them to work in other areas as the robots take over.

The ‘AutoHaul’ project is reported to have cost Rio AU$940 million, and will see many of the company’s 200 locomotives operating on the Pilbara lines fitted with on-board cameras for constant monitoring from Rio’s operations center in Perth.

Some of the iron ore delivered by the robot trains will no doubt go towards building more robot trains.

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Securities Disclosure: I, Scott Tibballs, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

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