Rio Tinto To Begin Using Driverless Iron Ore Trains Beginning In 2018

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The mining firm Rio Tinto will begin using driverless iron ore trains as part of its operations in Western Australia in 2018, a statement put out by the company has revealed.

The plans were revealed after the company’s recent completion of its first long-haul trip made with an autonomous train.

This 60-mile (100-kilometer) completely autonomous train trip was part of the company’s commissioning process for the rollout of its AutoHaul program, which was originally slated to go into service back in 2015.

“This successful pilot run puts us firmly on track to meet our goal of operating the world’s first fully-autonomous, heavy-haul, long-distance rail network,” stated Rio Tinto iron ore division head Chris Salisbury.

“The successful pilot run from Wombat Junction to Paraburdoo is a significant step toward full commissioning of AutoHaul® in 2018 once all relevant safety and acceptance criteria have been met and regulatory approvals obtained,” the company added in a press release.

“Trains started running in autonomous mode in the first quarter of 2017. Currently about 50 per cent of pooled fleet rail kilometres are completed in autonomous mode (with drivers on-board) and 90 percent of pooled fleet production tonnes are AutoHaul® enhanced. Rio Tinto operates about 200 locomotives on more than 1,700 kilometres of track in the Pilbara, transporting ore from 16 mines to four port terminals.”

So, there’s obviously quite a lot of potential there to cut costs by moving to entirely autonomous vehicle use. As in other industries, though, this is likely to have a pronouncedly negative effect on employment figures as drivers and engineers of various types are automated out of a job. How will communities and countries respond to that?

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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