“Gains from AutoHaul are already being realised including reduced variability and increased speed across the network, helping to reduce average cycle times."
The technology that enables cars to be driven without human intervention could soon become the norm on the rail tracks, after a mining company completed the world’s first fully autonomous rail journey. Rio Tinto, successfully carried out the first-ever autonomous journey in Australia using its own system, AutoHaul. The 62-mile trial trip – used for Rio Tinto’s iron ore operations in the country – was the company's first step towards its vision of fully driverless operations by the end of 2018.
Driverless trains have long been a feature of the world’s networks, including on London’s Docklands Light Railway and Kuala Lumpur’s metro, but what makes Rio Tinto’s journey different is that it took place without any input from network operators, something that purely driverless trains need.
Providing a concise definition of how an autonomous vehicle works, Valentin Scinteie, transportation business development manager at Kontron, a global leader in embedded computing technology, spoke with SmartRail World in April on its work with autonomous vehicles (AV).
“We now offer very powerful on-board computers that can operate independently of control rooms. They don’t depend on large central computers and direct links to control rooms like CBTC or ERTMS does,” said Scinteie.
“Instead it offers trains the same platform as AVs and enables them to make decisions themselves using sensors, 3D maps and real time data.”
Rio Tinto’s journey was closely monitored in real-time by the company’s teams along with representatives of the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator, both on the ground and at the Operations Centre in Perth. Chris Salisbury, Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive, said the successful pilot run put the company on course to meet its 2018 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 news of Rio Tinto’s inaugural journey will no doubt be of interest to much busier rail networks across the world looking to make their networks more efficient. Before that happens, though, and networks act independently from humans, the viability of a system will hinge on its capability to deal with much higher traffic flows, something that Rio Tinto’s top man suggests AutoHaul is building towards.
“Gains from AutoHaul are already being realised including reduced variability and increased speed across the network, helping to reduce average cycle times,” said Salisbury.
“Rio Tinto is proud to be a leader in innovation and autonomous technology. New roles are being created to manage our future operations and we are preparing our current workforce for new ways of working to ensure they remain part of our industry.”
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