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Social Innovation

Creating the world's largest robot

Creating the world's largest robot*

The use of automation to improve operational efficiency, safety and sustainability is rapidly changing the industrial landscape and impacting workforce skillsets in Oceania.

Technology from Hitachi Group company Hitachi Rail STS has enabled Rio Tinto to achieve a global first in freight rail automation – the creation of the first automated heavy-haul long distance rail network.

Launched in 2018, Rio Tinto’s AutoHaul® program enables trains to travel to and from 16 mines and four port terminals, autonomously.

Each autonomous train comprises three locomotives fitted with AutoHaul® technology to support autonomous operation, and some 240 ore cars. These 2.5km long robots can now travel the return distance of 800km across the often remote and inhospitable terrain without a driver on board.

Technology designed and developed by Hitachi Rail STS enables each train journey to be monitored continuously from a central operations centre some 1,000km away.

AutoHaul® is the result of a multi-year collaboration between Rio Tinto and Hitachi Rail STS which began in 2006 when Rio Tinto contracted Hitachi Rail STS to develop a concept design for driverless train operation on a section of its Pilbara railway line.

Over the following years constant development, testing and trialling was conducted, and in 2010 Hitachi Rail STS signed an agreement with Rio Tinto to provide the complete signalling, communications, train control, supervision and automation system upgrades needed to support full autonomous operation of the mining rail network, and ultimately make AutoHaul® a reality.

graphical illustration of Autonomous Train

In providing the communications and supervision infrastructure required to deliver the highest safety standards for this ambitious operation, Hitachi Rail STS installed more than 50 radio base stations and upgraded more than 40 level crossings to the highest safety standards, including adding CCTV cameras.

Rio Tinto commenced operating trains in autonomous mode in early 2017, with a driver on board to supervise and take control if required.

The highest safety standards have been maintained at every stage of development, and regulatory approval was essential to enable fully autonomous operation.

AutoHaul® has been developed and delivered to the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization's (CENELEC) international safety standards and accredited by Australia’s Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator.

In July 2018 the first autonomous production run was successfully completed when a driverless train hauled 28,000 tonnes of ore from Rio Tinto's Tom Price mine more than 280kms to the port of Cape Lambert.

Fully autonomous operation has brought many benefits. Drivers previously had to travel over 1.5 million kilometres every year to attend their shifts, and on average each shift change took an hour.

With no need to match up trains and drivers, operational flexibility has increased, and autonomous trains have achieved a six percent speed improvement over manned trains.

Information on locomotive operation gathered by the system will enable predictive analysis to be used to improve maintenance.

And AutoHaul® will continue to evolve, bringing further efficiency gains. It embodies the vision of social innovation: a novel solution to a problem achieved through creative collaboration and the deployment of digital technologies.


  1. Hitachi Rail STS proud its technology has enabled world’s first autonomous heavy freight operation
  2. Rio Tinto achieves first delivery of iron ore with world’s largest robot
  3. World-first autonomous trains deployed at Rio Tinto’s iron ore operations

Solution By: Hitachi Rail STS

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