Rio Tinto reports another autonomous train crash in Australia

Fully loaded Rio Tinto’s autonomous train crashes in AustraliaRio Tinto operates a series of iron ore autonomous trains in the Pilbara, Western Australia. (Image courtesy of Rio Tinto.)

Rio Tinto (NYSE: RIO; LSE: RIO ASX: RIO) said on Monday that one of its fully loaded autonomous iron ore trains had crashed with a set of stationary wagons in Western Australia’s Pilbara region.

The incident, the second of this kind this year, took place about 80 km outside the town of Karratha. While there were no people within the vicinity and no injuries, 22 wagons and three locomotives were impacted, a Rio spokesperson told the Australian Broadcast Corp.

Australia’s Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) said a recovery train reportedly crashed into the driverless iron ore train it was dispatched to retrieve, following a mechanical failure.

An unloaded autonomous train derailed in February at the Dampier port, where Rio Tinto ships iron ore through Cape Lambert.

The miner said at the time that nobody got hurt in the accident, which involved about 38 wagons of the self-driving train. 

A similar incident occurred with an autonomous Rio Tinto train last June, when as many as 30 wagons left the tracks about 19 km from Dampier.

Rio Tinto’s peers, BHP (NYSE: BHP; LSE; BHP ASX: BHP) and Fortescue (ASX: FMG) have also reported derailments at their iron ore operations in recent months.

The most infamous Pilbara train derailment took place in 2018 when BHP was forced to deliberately push a runaway train off its track. The machine was almost 3 km long and its four locomotives and 268 wagons were fully laden. At one point, the locomotive reached average speeds of about 110 km/h on the track between Newman and Port Hedland.

Rio Tinto, the world’s largest iron ore producer, operates about 14,000 ore cars across its Pilbara rail network, each of which can hold an estimated 118 tonnes of iron ore.


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