First driverless freight train makes debut in Australia

Mining company Rio Tinto has completed its first fully autonomous train journey by hauling a load of iron ore along a 100km stretch of track in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

The train travelled from Wombat Junction to Paraburdoo monitored by engineers and government officials in a control room in Perth.

The company is trying to remove people from mining operations and believes autonomous trains will be quicker and safer.

A video of the train in action can be seen here.

Rio Tinto has been running trials of its proprietorial AutoHaul technology with human drivers present since the beginning of the year. It plans to put the system into full operation next year if it passes safety tests.

Komatsu’s autonomous trucks, unveiled last year (Komatsu)

The Anglo-Australian company is a major train operator in its own right. It runs about 200 locomotives on more than 1,700km of track in the Pilbara, transporting ore from 16 mines to four ports.

Chris Salisbury, the chief executive of Rio Tinto Iron Ore, said in a press statement: "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, which will unlock significant safety and productivity benefits for the business."

The company says trains driven by computers are able to travel faster and closer together than is possible with human drivers.

As well as trains, "mine of the future" technology championed by Rio Tinto and others seeks to automate as many mining jobs as possible.

One example is the autonomous dumper trucks made by Japanese equipment manufacturer Komatsu (pictured). These vehicles have no cabs and can operate with 3D terrain models compiled from drone photographs.

Salisbury added that Rio Tinto was looking to retrain its workforce "to ensure they remain part of our industry".

Main image: Rio Tinto runs more than 200 locomotives (Panoramio)

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