First Fully Autonomous Freight Train Completes a Delivery
no driver in the cab, controlled by an operations center, world’s largest and longest robot

Railway Age, by Stuart Chirls, Senior Editor, July 16, 2018

Railroading entered a brave, new world as the first fully-autonomous freight train completed its initial run in Australia.

Global mining conglomerate Rio Tinto marked the first delivery of iron ore by an autonomous train as part of its US$940 million AutoHaul program operating to its port facilities in Western Australia.

On July 10 the train, hauled by three locomotives and carrying around 28,000 metric tons of iron ore, traveled more than 175 miles from Rio Tinto’s Tom Price mine to the port of Cape Lambert without a driver in the cab. It was monitored remotely by operators from the company’s Operations Centre in Perth, more than 900 miles away.

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

“We will continue to ensure our autonomous trains operate safely in the Pilbara, where we record more than 8 million kilometers (5 million miles) of train travel each year. We are working closely with drivers during this transition period to prepare them for new ways of working as a result of automation.”

Executives from at least one North American Class I, Norfolk Southern, which has established an autonomous technology facility in Atlanta, have visited Australia to inspect the Rio Tinto operation.

Locomotives carrying AutoHaul software are fitted with on-board cameras allowing for constant monitoring from the Operations Centre. All public rail crossings on the network are equipped with closed-circuit cameras and have been upgraded to the highest safety standards.

Systems provider Ansaldo STS says the successful completion of the first fully-autonomous rail freight journey is a major turning point for heavy-haul rail operators globally.

“One only need to refer to the degree of change that the introduction of driverless metros has had on mass transit operations in the passenger sector to gain insight into the potential impact that autonomous freight rail management solutions may have in the heavy freight and resources sector,” said Michele Fracchiolla, Ansaldo STS president for freight.

The breakthrough solution is based on the international standard digital radio-based signal and train protection system ATO over ETCS Level 2 (GoA4) that provide the fully automated train operation.