Its 2.4km-long trains, monitored remotely from an operations centre in Perth, Australia, travel across a network of 1,700km of track, delivering iron ore from 16 mines to ports in Dampier and Cape Lambert. These trains have now safely travelled more than 4.5 million kilometres autonomously since they were first deployed last year.
This project was made possible by Rio Tinto's close collaboration with project partners from Japan, the US and Australia. These include Hitachi Rail, Calibre, New York Air Brake, Wabtec and others which 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.
Ivan Vella, managing director, rail, port & core services at Rio Tinto Iron Ore, said that the deployment of AutoHaul is a reflection of the incredible pioneering spirit of the project team and its valued partners.
"The success of AutoHaul would not have been possible without the expertise, collaboration and dedication of teams within Rio Tinto and our numerous partners," he said. "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."
Michele Fracchiolla, president Americas and APAC business unit at Hitachi Rail STS, commented: "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 AutoHaul highlight the technology's potential to improve productivity, increase flexibility and reduce bottlenecks in Rio Tinto's iron ore system. Rio Tinto stated that its 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.