In the field of tunnel construction, tests under real conditions have been difficult to carry out up until now for the further development of construction methods but also with respect to materials, equipment and safety technologies. Tests on a laboratory scale only provide limited information, and tests in existing tunnels are expensive due to the fact that the tunnels need to be closed for the tests and traffic must be rerouted, according to Robert Galler of the Institute for Subsurface Engineering at Montan University Leoben, serving as the responsible project manager. The projected underground tunnel research facility at an altitude of 1,000 meters in Mount Erzberg in Styria should be ready to provide assistance to tunnel builders in no later than three years time following investments of about EUR 30 million.
On balance, five former mine tunnels will be expanded by the year 2018 to offer researchers, the tunnel construction industry and various rescue organizations the best possible research and training conditions. According to Galler, interest on the part of international researchers and the business world is enormous. The focus will be on developing new ventilation concepts, geothermic issues and the development of better rockfall protection barriers.
Just a few days earlier the researchers were granted a contract to coordinate an EU research project to the amount of EUR 3 million focusing on underground storage of energy from solar power plants. Another key aspect of the research center is an educational and training facility providing real-life conditions as the basis for training the staff of emergency response organizations to deal with crisis scenarios such as tunnel fires.