Hitachi Rail is preparing to begin the third and final phase of upgrading the interlocking system for Rio Tinto's autonomous heavy haul rail network in Western Australia. Rio Tinto operates an extensive railway network that links 17 iron ore mines and four port terminals in the state's Pilbara region. In partnership with Rio Tinto, Hitachi Rail launched AutoHaul™ in 2019, the world's first fully autonomous heavy-haul rail operation. AutoHaul™ can move around one million tonnes of iron ore daily, using 2.4-kilometre-long trains remotely monitored from an operations centre in Perth.
The upgrade aims to replace the Integrated Control and Supervision System (ICSS) that supports the network's operation. This will eliminate potential safety, operational, and efficiency risks. The replacement will be done in three years and eight stages. The existing ICSS MicroTrax interlocking system will be replaced with a Hitachi Rail-designed MicroLok II interlocking to optimise network throughput, on-time operations, and life cycle costs while minimising faults and failures.
The ICSS is the technology platform allowing for integrated, centralised, and local train control and monitoring and supervision of subsystems on the trackside. The computer-based interlocking system performs essential wayside functions, both in the field and remotely, such as train detection and track circuit integrity. It can "self-diagnose" and send alerts back to the control centre. MicroLok II's advanced technology will help to monitor multiple lines of railroad tracks and crossings to move freight to its destination safely and efficiently.
The completed ICSS Phase 1 and Phase 2 projects replaced the existing interlocking system and supporting wayside equipment across a 100-kilometre stretch of the Tom Price line and 200 kilometres of the Yandi line. The third and final phase will focus on the Paraburdoo Line and is expected to go live in 2025. The project's primary objective is to support Rio Tinto in future-proofing its network with an innovative, scalable, and flexible solution.