Rio Tinto joined representatives of the government of Western Australia and lead project technology partner Hitachi Rail STS on June 14 to celebrate the successful deployment of Rio Tinto’s AutoHaul rail program. It is the world’s first automated, heavy-haul, long-distance rail network.

The $940 million AutoHaul program uses automated trains to transport iron ore from Rio Tinto’s mines in the Pilbara region of Western Australia to its port facilities at Dampier and Cape Lambert. The system is monitored from 1,500 kilometers (km) away in Perth.

Rio Tinto operates about 200 locomotives on what is the largest privately owned rail network in Australia. The 2.4-km-long trains travel across a network of 1,700 km of track, delivering iron ore from 16 mines. The trains have safely traveled autonomously more than 4.5 million km since they were first deployed in 2018.

All locomotives are fitted with AutoHaul safety systems, including collision detection systems, automatic train protection technology that controls train speed to ensure adherence to speed limits, and an onboard video camera to record the front view from the train.

The world-first AutoHaul program was made possible by close collaboration between Rio Tinto and project partners from Japan, the United States and Australia. 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.

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.

“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,” Western Australia Minister for Mines and Petroleum Bill Johnston 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.”

Early results from the deployment of AutoHaul highlight the technology’s potential to improve productivity, increase flexibility, and reduce bottlenecks in Rio Tinto’s iron ore system. 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.