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Rio Tinto is turning its leading minds to new advances for its iron ore trains after completing the rollout of driverless technology across its sprawling Pilbara rail network.
The mining giant yesterday celebrated the completion of its $US940 million ($1.37 billion) Autohaul project in Karratha, along with its development partners Hitachi Rail, Calibre, New York Air Brake and Wabtec.
Rio’s managing director of port, rail and core services for iron ore, Ivan Vella, said Autohaul was a huge milestone for the company but it was continuing to develop and enhance the technology through things like collision avoidance technology, which could detect objects in front of trains and prevent crashes.
The company was also studying options such as hybrid power technology, embracing lithium-ion batteries in the company’s locomotives to cut emissions.
“Imagine a giant battery on one of those locomotives that’s taking energy from the train as it’s braking, storing it in the battery and then it can use it when it needs power,” he said.
Another option under consideration is changing the primary fuel source for its locomotives from diesel to gas, which would also reduce emissions.
Rio consumes about 5000L of diesel for every 800km round-trip of its 2.4km trains, so any reduction in fuel costs could save the company millions each year.
Billed as the world’s biggest robot, the company’s driverless trains have now safely travelled more than 4.5 million kilometres since they were deployed last year.
As well as providing optimised speed, Autohaul cuts downtime related to driver shift changes, which can be three or four over one 40-hour rail journey.
It also removes the need for almost 1.5 million kilometres of road travel per year previously required to transport drivers to and from trains mid-journey.
Mr Vella said no jobs had been lost as a result of Autohaul, with drivers retrained in other areas or redeployed.
The company’s shorter Robe Valley railway still operates with drivers at the controls and supply trains are also manned.
The mining giant’s Pilbara operations link 16 mines with two ports over 1700km of track on what is Australia’s biggest privately owned rail network.
Rio expects to ship between 333 million and 343 million tonnes of iron ore from the Pilbara this year.
This article first appeared on thewest.com.au
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