Technical review of safety and reliability risks of Pilbara Iron Ore Expansion Project

Rio Tinto is one of the world’s largest resource companies, based in the UK but with major operations in Australia. In the Pilbara region of northwest Australia, its iron ore operations involve extraction from mine sites, transport by 1400km of rail track to a dedicated port facility. It has an ambitious project to expand Pilbara Iron Ore exports to nearly a million tonnes of ore per day. The project includes the introduction of Automatic Train Operation (ATO, driverless trains), a ground-breaking system as ATO has never been applied anywhere in the world for freight trains on a large scale.

Rio Tinto has a rigorous ‘gating’ process for major projects requiring detailed, independent financial and technical evaluation of projects at multiple points in the project lifecycle. SYSTRA Scott Lister was appointed as part of the evaluation team reporting to the company’s Investment Committee in London. Our role was to provide specialist advice in relation to the management of safety and reliability risks, a highly important facet of the project. Safety in a driverless environment, with trains over two kilometres long travelling hundreds of kilometres unattended, is a critical factor, as is system reliability, due to the high value of the massive quantities of iron ore exports every day.

SYSTRA Scott Lister’s contribution to the initial Investment Committee report enabled the project to sanction the implementation phase, with a number of observations and recommendation made to improve the likelihood of project execution with the required safety and reliability performance. We continued to provide additional technical review during project execution, through the provision of independent expert advice, based on many years of experience with major projects of this type, SYSTRA Scott Lister was able to provide Rio Tinto senior management with the assurance they required to commit the substantial funding needed for an undertaking of this magnitude.

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