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Forget the Iron Horse, Here Comes the Iron Snake

The Pilbara region of Western Australia is home to some of the world’s largest iron ore mines. But the area is also a remote and forbidding place where temperatures often climb to 130 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s why mines like Rio Tinto’s Yandicoogina are using next-generation technology like remotely operated trucks the size of a house to take the ore out of the pit around the clock. They dump the rocks into rail cars pulled by customized GE locomotives that haul the cargo across the Mars-like landscape to port.

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These GE Evolution Series locomotives, which are made in the U.S., come with special cooling systems to cope with the heat. They often pull a train of cars that weighs upwards of 26,000 tons and stretches 1.4 miles.

GE spent a decade and about $400 million to develop the locomotives. Each uses more than six miles of wiring and 250 sensors generating 9 million data points every hour to run as efficiently as possible. As a result, they use less fuel and produce 40 percent fewer emissions than their closest counterparts. They need just one gallon of diesel to pull a ton of freight 450 miles.

There are 178 GE locomotives running along Rio Tinto’s 900-mile long rail network, connecting the company’s 15 mines in the Pilbara to port.

It’s worth noting that the region is not entirely barren. Rio Tio estimates that the trains pass an average of 500 kangaroos per trip.

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Image credits: Rio Tinto

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