Rio Tinto is set to be running its full 200-locomotive Pilbara train fleet without drivers by the end of 2018, according to an interview this week with the miner’s head of growth and innovation, Stephen McIntosh.
McIntosh, who spoke with The Australian this week, said the company’s AutoHaul team was ironing out some of the final issues with the software that helps conduct driverless trains in Rio’s iron ore supply chain.
“We continue to build up momentum,” McIntosh was quoted as saying. “It’s a very substantial fleet of trains, so it’s very important to make sure we’ve implemented every single thing and every single train through the iterations and versions [of AutoHaul].”
AutoHaul was first announced in 2008, at the peak of the mining boom. It was put on hold during the GFC, but revived in 2012, with a half-billion-dollar budget, and a targeted starting date of 2015.
Technical and practical complications have delayed the project, but a further injection of $250 million in 2018 – as part of Rio’s plans for a 360 million tonne per annum capacity – looks to have the project as close to reality as ever.
Rio ran its first fully autonomous train on a nearly 100-kilometre pilot run from Wombat Junction to Paraburdoo in October 2017.
It has been using AutoHaul for some time in a limited capacity – with around 32% of rail kilometres performed in autonomous mode – with drivers on board – on Rio’s Pilbara network last year.
“Gains from AutoHaul are already being realised, helping to reduce average cycle times,” Rio iron ore boss Chris Salisbury said in October last year.
“Rio Tinto is proud to be a leader in innovation and autonomous technology in the global mining industry which is delivering long-term competitive advantages as we build the mines of the future.”