Rio Tinto and its lead technology partner on the AutoHaul™ project, Hitachi Rail STS, joined together today to celebrate the successful deployment of the world’s first automated heavy-haul long distance rail network.
AutoHaul trains, which deliver safety and productivity benefits for Rio Tinto’s iron ore business, have also firmly positioned Western Australia and its heavy-haul rail industry as a global leader in the joint development and application of rail technology, Rio said.
Today, 2.4 km long trains, monitored remotely from an operations centre in Perth, travel across a network of 1,700 km of track, delivering iron ore from 16 mines to ports in Dampier and Cape Lambert in Western Australia. These trains have now safely travelled more than 4.5 million kilometres autonomously since they were first deployed last year.
“This world-first was made possible by the close collaboration with project partners from Japan, US and Australia,” Rio said. “These include Hitachi Rail, Calibre, New York Air Brake, Wabtec and others who provided the necessary expertise, innovation and software to make AutoHaul a success. Several of these partners maintain a strong presence in Western Australia and have committed to continuing to invest locally.”
Rio Tinto Iron Ore Managing Director Rail, Port & Core Services, Ivan Vella, said: “The success of AutoHaul would not have been possible without the expertise, collaboration and dedication of teams within Rio Tinto and our numerous partners. I’d also like to commend our train driving workforce for their support and professionalism during the transition period.
“This project has cemented Western Australia as a leader in the heavy-haul rail industry and has attracted interest from around the world. The successful deployment of the world’s first heavy-haul long distance rail network demonstrates the potential for significant further improvement in such operations with others around the world looking to replicate.”
Western Australia Minister for Mines and Petroleum Bill Johnston, who also joined in with the celebrations, said the AutoHaul project is a world-first and an example of the strength of Western Australia’s resources industry, which continues to excel in technology and innovation.
“I’d like to congratulate Rio Tinto, Hitachi and all the other project partners for their hard work and dedication over the past decade to delivering this project, which really cements our State as a global leader in rail technology,” he said.
“AutoHaul has brought the rail freight industry in this country into the 21st century and is rightfully the subject of global interest. I’d also like to mention that the development of the world’s biggest robot is such a success because of the contribution from Western Australia’s skilled engineers and innovative workers.”
Michele Fracchiolla, President Americas and APAC Business Unit, Hitachi Rail STS, said: “Hitachi Rail STS is extremely proud of the lead technical and delivery role it played in enabling the deployment of the world’s first fully-autonomous heavy haul, long distance rail operation.
“This is a new technical benchmark for the freight rail industry worldwide and the result of a long-established and collaborative partnership between Rio Tinto and Hitachi Rail STS. Now that the trains are running autonomously, the levels of continuous improvement that can be achieved in safety, operational efficiency and sustainability are endless, and we look forward to continuing to collaborate with Rio Tinto to enhance the AutoHaul system.”
Early results from the deployment of the $940 million AutoHaul program highlight the technology’s potential to improve productivity, increase flexibility and reduce bottlenecks in Rio Tinto’s iron ore system, the miner said. “Rio Tinto’s Pilbara operations are being transformed to flex in line with market conditions and AutoHaul is a vital component in increasing flexibility and safety in the system.”
Rio operates about 200 locomotives on what is the largest privately-owned rail network in Australia and, in December, the deployment of software on Rio Tinto’s locomotives was completed.
“Autonomous trains improve safety through reduced risk at level crossings and automated responses to speed restrictions and alarms,” Rio says. “AutoHaul also removes the need for almost 1.5 million km of road travel per year previously required to transport drivers to and from trains mid-journey.”
All locomotives are fitted with AutoHaul safety systems including collision detection systems, automatic train protection technology – which controls train speed to ensure adherence to speed limits – and an on-board video camera to record the front view from the train.
The average return distance of these trains is about 800 km with the average journey cycle, including loading and dumping, taking about 40 hours. All public rail crossings on the network are fitted with CCTV cameras and have been upgraded to the highest safety standards, according to Rio.