Gian de Poloni

from ABC

Photo: Rio Tinto hopes by early next year most of its trains will not require drivers. (AAP: Rio Tinto/Christian Sprogoe, file photo)

Rio Tinto is gearing up to start testing driverless trains in Western Australia’s Pilbara, in what it believes is a world first for mining.

A locomotive fitted out with auto-haul technology will cart iron ore to port along the Tom Price railway next month.

The train will initially be manned to ensure the new equipment runs smoothly.

Rio Tinto hopes that by early next year most of its trains will not require drivers.

Acting chief executive of iron ore operations, Warwick Smith, says the initiative was part of the company’s plan to export 360 million tonnes of iron ore a year from the Pilbara by 2017.

“We’ve been doing engineering work on that now for many years, so we’ve done a lot of preparation and we’ll soon move into an execution phase,” he said.

“Effectively, you’re taking a driver off the train and you have an algorithm that basically is running the train.”

Mr Smith says the project has been years in the making.

“It’ll be a ramp up process, we won’t be doing it overnight. It will be steady,” he said.

“We’re already commissioning some of the trains. That’s quite a process. It will probably take all year to commission the number of locos we’ve got.”