Driver­less trains a ‘threat’ to Pil­bara

Pilbara News - - News - Nick Evans and Tom Zaun­mayr

Rio Tinto has sig­nalled de­vel­op­ment of its driver­less train sys­tem is back on track, mov­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for com­plet­ing the Au­toHaul project out of its tech­nol­ogy di­vi­sion to iron ore boss Chris Sal­is­bury.

Launched in 2012 with a $US518 mil­lion bud­get, Au­toHaul was due to be op­er­a­tional by 2015.

The shift to driver­less trains was to de­liver an ex­tra 10 mil­lion to 20 mil­lion tonnes of ex­ports for the iron ore ma­jor by next year by re­duc­ing down­time as­so­ci­ated with shift changes.

But in April, Rio was forced to cut its 2017 ex­port guid­ance and ad­mit it was strug­gling to in­te­grate the com­plex soft­ware sys­tems into a pack­age that would al­low it to move to a com­pletely au­ton­o­mous sys­tem.

Rio has since gone quiet on Au­toHaul, but a new iron ore man­age­ment struc­ture cir­cu­lated by Mr Sal­is­bury last week shows re­spon­si­bil­ity for com­plet­ing the project has been moved from Rio’s growth and in­no­va­tion di­vi­sion to iron ore, in­di­cat­ing it is en­ter­ing the fi­nal stages of rolling out the sys­tem.

Mr Sal­is­bury’s cir­cu­lar says ports, rail and core ser­vices boss Ivan Vella, who is now ti­tled head of sup­ply chain and ser­vices, will take over re­spon­si­bil­ity for the new trains from Jan­uary.

WA Na­tion­als Leader Bren­don Grylls said au­to­ma­tion would squeeze out Pil­bara jobs.

“Lots of jobs are go­ing to be ex­changed for a ro­bot into the fu­ture of West­ern Aus­tralia,” he said.

“Those peo­ple like the Lib­eral and La­bor (par­ties), who are de­fend­ing the 1964 State Agree­ment, are now about to wake up and see West Aus­tralian jobs ... trans­ferred from peo­ple to ro­bots.

“Com­pa­nies that can sack jobs when prof­itabil­ity goes up, and com­pa­nies which are look­ing to au­to­mate more and more of their work­force.”

Mr Grylls said au­to­ma­tion and off-shoring of man­age­ment and hu­man re­sources jobs showed Rio Tinto, as a group, did not have res­i­den­tial jobs in mind.

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