GLOBAL mining company Rio Tinto says automation of its Western Australia Pilbara iron ore heavy-haul rail network (**Autohaul) is progressing well, with around 20% of all train kilometers now operating in autonomous mode, albeit with drivers still on-board managing the remaining safety and reliability systems.
Improvements to system performance continue and media reports suggest that Rio Tinto anticipates 100% of its network will be fully driver-less by the end of 2018.
Rio Tinto first floated the concept in 2008, but has previously reported a number of delays in implementing the technology.
Releasing its second quarter production results, the company says its Pilbara iron ore shipments reached 77.7 million tonnes in the second quarter, despite being impacted by an acceleration in the rail maintenance program following poor weather in the first quarter.
Total volumes for 2017 are forecast to reach around 330 million tonnes, which takes into consideration first-half production and further track maintenance.
**AutoHaul®: AutoHaul® continues to progress and, once operational, it will be the world’s first fully-autonomous heavy haul, long distance railway system. A key part of our long-term operating strategy, AutoHaul® operations will provide the additional capacity required to meet increasing production without investment in additional trains. Throughout 2015, AutoHaul® fitted locomotives have been trialled on the network to test onboard systems, signalling, safety mechanisms and communications with our Operations Centre in Perth. In 2016, AutoHaul® development will continue including submission of regulatory approvals, completion of full system functionality, improvement of system performance and reliability and gradual integration into operations.