"Early results indicate significant potential to improve productivity, providing increased system flexibility and reducing bottlenecks."
The world’s first fully autonomous train has after many months of testing that saw it cover more than one million kilometres entered full operation, the mining company behind it, Rio Tinto, has announced. Used to carry iron ore from mines in a remote part of Western Australia, Pilbara, Rio Tinto brought in the autonomous rolling stock to meet increasing production without investing in additional trains for the freight network. The company said that there is significant scope for the network, which in July 2018 carried 28,0000 tonnes of iron ore over a 170-mile stretch of track, to improve overall efficiency.
There has been concern from some quarters that the introduction of AutoHaul, the technology powering the technologically-advanced trains which promises to reduce congestion and allow for more iron ore to be transported, would threaten jobs – worries that have been ruled out by Rio Tinto. On its website, the mining company said that it would be working to refine autonomous operations to try to maximise value, a process that would see it work closely with drivers, and “do not expect to make any redundancies in 2019 as a result of the deployment of AutoHaul”. AutoHaul was approved for use by the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR), Australia’s ruling safety board.
Providing some details on how Rio Tinto’s autonomous train will bring more efficient operations, the new trains will reportedly be able run faster than before thanks to a reduction in the speed fluctuations that are inherent in human operation. Safety at the various level crossings along the route are said to be given a safety boost, with all crossings monitored around the clock by CCTV. The autonomous train system will also allow Rio Tinto to cut down on the number of stops that they make to allow for shift changes, a process that racks up around 1.5 million kilometres on an annual basis.
The managing director for iron ore at Rio Tinto’s rail, port and core services division, Ivan Vella, said the successful deployment of AutoHaul was a strong reflection of the pioneering spirit at the company. “It’s been a challenging journey to automate a rail network of this size and scale in a remote location like the Pilbara, but early results indicate significant potential to improve productivity, providing increased system flexibility and reducing bottlenecks.”
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