Rio Tinto will soon begin using driverless trains after Australia’s rail safety regulator signed off on the mining heavyweight’s new system.

Rio has been granted accreditation to run driverless trains across its network of iron ore mines in Western Australia’s Pilbara region.

The trademark AutoHaul project, which is due to be completed by the end of this year, marks the world’s first heavy-haul, long-distance autonomous rail operation.

Rio Tinto completed a nearly 100km pilot run without a driver on board in October last year.

The company operates about 200 trains on more than 1700km of track in the Pilbara, transporting ore from 16 mines to four port terminals.