Rio Tinto has achieved a milestone following the first delivery of iron ore through an autonomous train in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

On 10 July this autonomous train, with three locomotives, carried around 28,000t of iron ore and travelled more than 280km from Rio Tinto’s mining operations in Tom Price to the port of Cape Lambert.

Its journey was monitored remotely by operators from Rio Tinto’s Operations Centre in Perth, more than 1,500km away.

“The programme will deliver the world’s first fully autonomous, long-distance, heavy-haul rail network.”

This journey is considered to be a major milestone for Rio Tinto’s AutoHaul programme, which received regulatory approval in May.

The $940m AutoHaul programme, which is currently on schedule to be completed by the end of the year, aims to unlock safety and productivity gains for the business, as well as optimise the company’s iron ore system by offering flexibility and reducing bottlenecks.

Rio Tinto Iron Ore managing director for Rail, Port & Core Services Ivan Vella said: “The safe first delivery of iron ore by an autonomous train is a key milestone for AutoHaul. The programme will deliver the world’s first fully autonomous, long-distance, heavy-haul rail network, operating the world’s largest and longest robots.

“This programme symbolises both the pioneering spirit and innovative talents of many people across Rio Tinto and shows our absolute commitment to improving safety and productivity, as well as enabling greater flexibility across our operations.

“We will continue to ensure our autonomous trains operate safely under the wide range of conditions we experience in the Pilbara, where we record more than eight million kilometres of train travel each year. We are working closely with drivers during this transition period as we prepare our employees for new ways of working as a result of automation.”

The AutoHaul programme is focused on automating trains to transport iron ore to the company’s port facilities in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

Once commissioned, the network will be the first heavy-haul, long-distance autonomous rail operation in the world.

Rio Tinto currently operates about 200 locomotives on more than 1,700km of track in the Pilbara, transporting ore from 16 mines to four port terminals.