Rio Tinto train completes first crewless trip

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PERTH, Australia — Officials with Australian mining corporation Rio Tinto say they’ve successfully operated a driverless train on a 60-mile stretch of tracks in western Australia.

In previous tests, Rio Tinto locomotives operated across the route in "autopilot mode," but with a crew still present in the cab. This is the first test in which the locomotives' operation was overseen remotely from Rio Tinto's command center in Perth.

Monday's test is a step towards fulfilling Rio Tinto's 2012 announcement that it intended to spend $518 million to automate its freight trains. The effort, known collectively as the Auto Haul program, came after the company purchased a number of remotely operated trucks. Rio Tinto officials had expected that driverless locomotives would go into service by 2014, but unanticipated difficulty with the software pushed their estimate back to 2018.

“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,” said Chris Salisbury, Rio Tinto's iron ore chief executive, told The Australian.

Rio Tinto officials say that automated trains will help to improve their safety standards. The programming will automatically respond to speed changes and alarms. It will also reduce costs and help the company maintain a competitive advantage as the mining industry endures a worldwide slump.

The autonomous railroad will still be required to meet Australian safety standards and receive regulatory approval before the technology is installed system wide.

More information is available online.
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