Rio Tinto will purchase battery-electric trains for use in WA iron ore operations, in a move it hopes can eventually help reduce its diesel-related emissions by 30 per cent in the Pilbara each year. 

As part of the deal, Rio Tinto will take delivery of four 7MWh FLXdrive battery-electric locomotives from Wabtec Corporation that will be trialed in WA’s North West in early 2024. 

The trains will be recharged at purpose-built stations at ports or mines and will also be capable of producing additional energy through a regenerative brake system. 

“Battery-electric locomotives offer significant potential for emissions reduction in the near term as we seek to reduce our Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions in the Pilbara by 50 per cent by 2030,” Rio Tinto Managing Director of Port, Rail and Core Services Richard Cohen said. 

Rio Tinto’s deal with Wabtec follows the announcement in September of fellow iron ore miner Roy Hill’s move to employ fully battery-powered FLXdrive locomotives in its Pilbara operations

The shift is forecast to reduce fuel costs and emissions by a percentage in the “double-digits” for each train. 

Rio Tinto’s Pilbara train network has long been considered state-of-the-art and became the world’s first fully autonomous heavy-haul rail network when it went into full operation in June 2019. 

The battery-electric locomotives will eventually integrate with AutoHaul, which currently operates over 1760km of track and sees trains deliver tens of thousands of tonnes of iron ore from 16 mines to ports in Dampier and Cape Lambert. 

AutoHaul was the sole WA finalist for the 2020 Sir William Hudson Award recognising the best engineering project in the country, and has been dubbed the “world’s largest robot.” 

Despite its remote location, the Pilbara is home to one of the world’s busiest train corridors, comprising some 3664km of track and with approximately 493 locomotives and 32,000 wagons currently in use.

Main image courtesy of Che Chapman