Austria opens advanced mine-based tunnel research centre

20 October 2021

A new, highly advanced tunnel research and training centre for the development of construction methods, materials and equipment has opened at Eisenerz in the Austrian state of Styria.

Located in an abandoned iron-ore mine in the mountainous Erzberg area, 60km northwest of Graz and around 1,000m above sea level, the Zentrum am Berg (ZaB) facility was opened on Monday 18 October to the applause of 300 invited guests.

ZaB will enable research, testing and development of construction methods, materials and equipment undertaken in life-size conditions. This will include:

  • Geotechnical monitoring
  • Numerical simulations in geotechnics and tunnelling
  • Safety research and technologies
  • Tunnel ventilation systems
  • Fire detection and fire-protection testing
  • Thermo- and aerodynamic research
  • Long-term durability of materials
  • Effects of climate change
  • Low-vibration excavation methods
  • Risk management.

Education and training under ‘very high fire loads’ will also be possible for international emergency services.

To achieve all this, the centre offers several kilometres of interconnected tunnels, with the centrepiece being two parallel 800m-long road tunnels; two parallel rail tunnels (each 400m long) and a further tube once used as a conveyor tunnel. Tunnels can be reached via three entry portals. Road tunnels are designed for unidirectional traffic travelling at 100km/h, and have a clear height of 4.7m above the roadway.

The centre will cover research and testing on new methods for both NATM and TBM tunnelling, and also has a segment-testing facility. Twenty national and international partners are said to be already undertaking a wide variety of research projects at the centre. A study programme will also offer students a choice of undergraduate- and postgraduate-level qualifications in tunnelling, geotechnics and mining.

Funding for the €30m (US$35m) ZaB project has come from the state of Styria (€12m), and €6m each from Austria’s Ministry of Education, Ministry of the Environment and the University of Leoben (German: Montanuniversität Leoben).