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Central Queensland coal mine ditches driverless trucks

Hitachi driverless truck
Hitachi driverless truck

A multinational mining giant will postpone using driverless trucks at its coal operation in Central Queensland.

Anglo American has confirmed it will scrap plans to introduce autonomous haul trucks at its Dawson Coal Mine, 194km southwest of Gladstone.

Not the safest option

QMEB understands a June business study into using that kind of autonomous haulage technology ended up being economically unviable and forced the company to go back to the drawing board and come up with another plan to replace its existing fleet of 23 Caterpillar haul trucks as it nears the end of its operating lifespan.

“Following the completion of the study, the decision has been taken to overhaul the existing fleet, rather than purchase new trucks and implement autonomous haulage systems at Dawson mine at this time,” an Anglo spokesperson told News Limited. “While the study found that autonomous haulage systems do present opportunities to improve truck fleet performance, we will be prioritising other measures to achieve safer and more productive operations at Dawson mine, in line with our productivity program.”

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$1.19B investment before savings begin

Rival BHP faces a similar question whether to roll out another 500 autonomous trucks across its Goonyella Riverside Coal Mine and other coal and iron ore operations across Queensland and Western Australia’s Pilbara region. QMEB understands such an investment could be worth as much as US$800 million ($1.19 billion).

More than 300 driverless trucks operate at Rio Tinto’s, BHP’s and Fortescue Metals Group’s iron ore mines in WA, boasting a 25 per cent increase in productivity compared to human-driven trucks. It has also been claimed the driverless vehicles are less prone to accidents and near misses with other trucks, cars and workers travelling by foot.

Whitehaven Coal, which in 2018 introduced Hitachi driverless trucks at its Maules Creek Mine, plans to operate up to 45 such vehicles in the next four years. Such a move is expected to reduce production unit costs by between 5.5 and 6.1 per cent, to $63.3 and $62.9 a tonne respectively based on 2018 prices.