American Railways Chug Toward Automation
Mining giant Rio Tinto RIO -0.04% PLC calls it the world’s largest robot: mile-long driverless trains traversing the sparsely populated Australian Outback on roughly 1,000 miles of track. American railroad companies, seeking to boost network efficiencies, call it the future.
U.S. rail-freight operators say greater automation will make their networks safer and more productive. They point to railroads owned by Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto as a blueprint for the 140,000-mile private U.S. network that moves vast quantities of everything from cars to corn.
Rio Tinto’s network, which began formally operating in driverless mode late last month, is the first fully autonomous, long-haul freight railroad. Rail-company executives from countries including the U.S. and Canada have visited to see the technology in action, said Ivan Vella, Rio Tinto’s head of iron-ore rail services.