The largest mining operations in Austria take place on the mountain. Some 200 employees help derive about 8.5 million tons of rocks in open cast mining each year, which is processed into fine ore. A unique infrastructure in Europe for scientific and applied research focusing on the construction and operation of tunnels, with real underground conditions, is being created outside of the current mining zone, at an altitude of about 1,000 meters above sea level, and in the mountain itself.
"Tests to further develop construction methods in building tunnels, but also materials, equipment and safety technologies have only been possible up until now at great expenses, and by accepting very limited and unfavorable conditions”, says Robert Galler of the Institute for Subsurface Engineering at Montan University Leoben. An underground tunnel system for research purposes, the so-called "Zentrum am Berg" (ZaB) in Eisenerz, Styria should be of assistance. Thanks to the new infrastructure in the traditional Styrian mining region, five underground tunnel shafts will provide “a hub for international researchers and companies involved in the construction and operation of tunnels and other underground workings” and thus offer ideal research and testing conditions.
The "Zentrum am Berg" will offer two parallel car and railway tunnels and a fifth shaft for testing purposes. After about 400 meters, the car and railway tunnels will reach the old Pressler mining tunnels which are no longer in operation. These tunnels are to be expanded to a length of about one kilometer and also be used for research and development purposes.
"Companies have already named about 50 specific research projects for implementation“, says Galler. The first cooperation projects are to be carried out in the year 2018. In this way, tests can be implemented concerning the outbreak and detection of fires and fire protection systems for very high fire loading. In addition, the entire infrastructure is to serve as a training and education center for rescue and emergency response services to simulate crisis and disaster scenarios. Other potential uses are exercises for maintenance staff and users of the road and railway infrastructure.