Rio Tinto announced it will run the world’s first automated long-distane heavy-haul rail network, with a US$518 million investment (Rio Tinto share US$478 million) in driverless train.
News emerged after Rio Tinto announced its commitment in the expansion of Pilbara iron ore operation last week.
In a release, the mining giant stated that the first driverless train will be launched in 2014, with the AutoHaulTM automated train programmed scheduled for completion a year later.
The AutoHaulTM is being pioneered as part of the automation component of Rio Tinto’s Mine of the Future initiative, that also includes driverless trucks and autonomous drills. The company currently runs 41 trains from mines to ports, comprising 148 locomotives and 9,400 iron ore cars.
Automating train operations allows Rio Tinto to expand Pilbara production capability without needing to make a substantial investment in additional trains. It will also drive productivity improvements, with greater flexibility in train scheduling and the removal of driver changeover times, creating extra capacity in the rail network. Other benefits include lower energy costs and reduction of carbon dioxide emissions for each tonne of iron ore produced.
Rio Tinto Australia’s chief executive, Sam Walsh said: “Rio Tinto is leading the way in large-scale use of automation, with plans to deploy 150 driverless trucks and our plans for AutoHaulTM. Expanding Pilbara iron ore production is a high-return and low-risk investment for Rio Tinto that will enhance shareholder value.”
“Automation will help us meet our expansion targets in a safe, more efficient and cost-effective way”.
Mr. Walsh also said in a statement that automation will help address the significant shortage facing the industry and providing a valuable opportunity to improve productivity.
However, the plan comes at a cost, when The Australian revealed yesterday that the robotic trains will cost 900 jobs in an already grim Australian job market. In response to that, Rio Tinto said despite the job cuts, it planned to add thousands of jobs in Pilbara over the next few years, but some positions would change.
“This will provide new opportunities in the rail division and elsewhere. As always, we will engage directly with those affected as we gradually make the transition to automation over the next three years,” Mr Walsh said.
AutoHaulTM and the overall expansion of rail operations are subject to a number of State Government and other approvals..