Rio Tinto has achieved a significant milestone with the first delivery of iron ore by an autonomous train in the Pilbara, Western Australia. The autonomous train, consisting of three locomotives and carrying around 28,000 metric tons (mt) of iron ore, traveled over 280 kilometers (km) from Rio Tinto’s mining operations in Tom Price to the port of Cape Lambert on July 10. It was monitored remotely by operators from Rio Tinto’s Operations Centre in Perth more than 1,500 km away.

The inaugural journey is a significant milestone for Rio Tinto’s AutoHaul program and follows regulatory approval in May. AutoHaul is on schedule to be completed by the end of 2018.

“The safe first delivery of iron ore by an autonomous train is a key milestone for AutoHaul,” Rio Tinto Iron Ore managing director Rail, Port and Core Services, Ivan Vella, said. “The program will deliver the world’s first fully autonomous, long-distance, heavy-haul rail network, operating the world’s largest and longest robots.”

“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 8 million km of train travel each year,” he added. “We are working closely with drivers during this transition period as we prepare our employees for new ways of working as a result of automation.”

The $940 million AutoHaul program is focused on automating trains transporting iron ore to Rio Tinto’s port facilities in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Rio Tinto operates about 200 locomotives on more than 1,700 km of track in the Pilbara, transporting ore from 16 mines to four port terminals. Locomotives carrying AutoHaul software are fitted with on-board cameras allowing for constant monitoring from the operations center.