Rio Tinto yesterday announced a major milestone for Australia’s largest integrated mining project, with its Pilbara iron ore system of mines, rail and ports reaching a run rate of 290 Mt/y, two months ahead of schedule. Early completion of the expansion has added significant value to the Pilbara operations, with continued ramp-up of the system contributing to the record first quarter production achieved this year. This further shows the worldclass status of Rio Tinto’s Western Australian iron ore operations and follows completion of the infrastructure component in September 2013, which itself was delivered four months ahead of schedule and $400 million under budget.Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Andrew Harding said “This is a significant milestone which adds real value for our business and our shareholders by moving more iron ore through the Pilbara at low cost. It builds on an impressive track record of delivery, achieved through our culture of driving performance and the quality of our people. We are now focused on the next phase of our expansion towards 360 Mt/y. The infrastructure is on schedule for completion in a little over 12 months and, from a base run rate of 290 Mt/y, we have a rapid, low-cost pathway to increase mine production capacity by more than 60 Mt/y between now and 2017.”Rio Tinto has achieved the 290 Mt/a run rate but there is likely to be some run rate variability in coming months as Rio Tinto completes its 360 Mt/a expansion and realises the integration of AutoHaul®, the world’s first automated heavy-haul rail system.The 283 Mt/y expansion project was announced in October 2010 and was increased to 290 Mt/y in 2012 reflecting greater productivity throughout the integrated system of mines, rail and ports. First ore was loaded at the new Cape Lambert port B facility in August 2013.The 290 Mt/y infrastructure was completed in October 2013. The 360 Mt/y infrastructure will be completed by the end of the first half of 2015, and mine production capacity will increase by more than 60 Mt/y between 2014 and 2017.The majority of the low-cost growth will be delivered in the next two years with mine production of more than 330 Mt in 2015.To assist the implementation of AutoHaul, all 173 locomotives on the network and more than 10,500 ore cars have been fitted with two separate yet complementary, innovative systems: Electronically Controlled Pneumatic brakes (ECP) and Driver Assist.Both systems have been introduced as part of Rio Tinto’s rail capacity expansion, and will soon be followed by the AutoHaul automation project.For many years the ore trains of the Pilbara relied on a conventional braking system called the Automatic Air Brake. This enables brakes to be applied sequentially on individual cars but with ore trains typically stretching for more than 2 km in length, the brakes take the better part of a second to propagate from car to car and well over one minute to be applied throughout the train.With ECP, brake commands are delivered throughout the entire train at electronic speed, which enables the brakes to operate simultaneously. Braking distances are, therefore, reduced, as are the forces acting within the train. The driver can slow down and stop faster and with much higher precision and, therefore, with greater safety. Reduced forces means fewer failures and, at least in theory, less maintenance.Each locomotive is fitted with a Head End Unit and a driver display, and each pair of ore cars is fitted with a Car Control device. These devices help the ECP system to determine how many locomotives are in the train, as well as the number and individual location of ore cars, each identified by a unique number.All train brake commands, train status information, operating modes, monitoring, faults and train diagnostic information are displayed on the locomotive display for the driver to see.The reservoirs throughout the train – the cylinders that hold volumes of air for applying the brakes – are continuously being recharged, which reduces, and often eliminates, the recharging time following a stop, again increasing efficiency and safety.Driver Assist is a monitoring and control system and is considered the latest innovation in driver technology for rail networks. It relies on smart technology known as New York Air Brake’s LEADER™ (Locomotive Engineer Assist/Display Event Recorder), which monitors a host of “live” track information and conditions, and displays the data to the driver in real-time. These include:• Track geometry, such as the gradient or curve• Projected speeds ahead of the train in relation to signals and speed restrictions• The properties of the braking systems• Monitoring and reporting to the driver the in-train forcesThe system also makes informed recommendations to the driver based on the recorded information. This improves driving consistency (in other words, it facilitates optimum driving styles for different conditions) and reduces the time needed for driver training.With ECP installed on the rail fleet and delivering far more rapid brake commands and reactions, Driver Assist is better able to calculate braking requirements.