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ERCI – European Railway Clusters Initiative

LEADER 2030 visits Europe’s largest open-cast iron ore mine

LEADER 2030 participates in the event organised by GKZ and Rail.S dedicated to the topic “Mining meets railway technology”

The LEADER 2030 project participated in the event „Mining Meets Rail Technology” in Austria, a two-days event whose format, running for over 10 years, is promoted by the partner GKZ Freiberg and the cluster Rail.S, the latter also representing the „LEADER 2030 Rail Supply Chain Team” in Saxony-Germany within the project coordinating entity ERCI.

DAY 1 – THE VISITS: The destination was one of the most dynamic regions in Europe: Styria, in the heart of Austria. The region hosts one of the world’s largest steel producers and rail manufacturers, the voestalpine AG, which is facing huge challenges in the decarbonization of steel production. Just around the corner, the huge Erzberg, Europe’s largest open-cast iron ore mine, provides the local raw material base. More than this, in the middle of the Erzberg, the Zentrum Am Berg (ZAB – tunnel laboratory) of the Montanuniversität Leoben is researching innovative solutions for tunnel construction and its safety and protection technology for tomorrow.

DAY 2 – THE CONFERENCE: With the support of the cluster AC Styria, representing the „LEADER 2030 Rail Supply Chain Team” in Austria, on the second day the conference “Mining Meets Rail Technology” was held in the city of Leoben. The conference program dealt with securing raw materials & supply chains in the EU, progress in conceptual and sustainable tunnel construction as well as the importance of metallurgy as a key enabler of circular economy and, last but not the least, insights into the decarbonization of EU steel production.

The 35 participants included the ERCI railway clusters of Belgium, Italy, Türkiye and the United Kingdom, each one representing the ERCI “LEADER 2030 Rail Supply Chain Team” in own country.

LESSONS LEARNT: The conclusion of the event is not very optimistic: the Railway sector will be affected by challenges relating to securing raw materials and closed supply chains in the same way as the Automotive and Aerospace industries. As raw materials have gained geopolitical significance in an increasingly multipolar world order, the European Railway sector are and will be increasingly affected by global economic policy. How will producers and suppliers of railway technology react in terms of securing raw materials and secure supply chains? In addition, there are risks due to increasing bottlenecks in transportation (i.e. global shipping routes), ESG-compliant production (procurement), supply shortages due to competing consumer sectors and Europe’s weakening self-sufficiency in critical and strategic raw materials with the resulting increase in dependencies, just to name a few.

No less influential on railway expansion is the problem of dwindling acceptance among the general public for the extraction of such important raw materials like aggregates for railway infrastructure (“NIMBY attitude”). The lack of alternatives to even ‘simple’ sand and gravel has already caused considerable delays to many railway projects. Producers in the EU are also subject to increasingly strict regulations, lengthy approval processes for mine set up and extension and delays due to legal disputes. OEMs must check their processes for ESG compliance and provide evidence of supply chains. This increases costs and often leads to a loss of competitiveness compared to their overseas competitors. One major problem in the EU which impacts also raw material supply for Rail industry is the comparatively high energy costs, as well as the comprehensive requirements and reporting obligations and ambitious political targets in terms of decarbonization.

In addition, the Railway technology and the underlying raw materials sector also need to switch from linear to circular production. This goes hand in hand with an increase in the recycling rate. The conference presentations made it clear that the political will, as well as the level of the recycling rate, are limited by chemistry and physics. And yet metallurgy is regarded as a key enabler in the EU. Closing the loop requires further research, especially in view of the increasing complexity of the composition and material properties of secondary raw materials (scrap). This is countered by political requirements, such as those imposed by the restrictive guidelines of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) with regard to future restrictions and bans on the handling of certain heavy metals (see the example of lead). These metals (such as lead, tin and zinc) are important base materials (“carrier metals”) in metallurgical processing in smelters for the production of strategic raw materials such as gallium or indium, i.e. metals needed in advanced Railway technologies.

CONCLUSIONS: Projects such as LEADER 2030 and events such as industry excursions combined with conferences can help not only to analyse above mentioned weak points, but also to point out undesirable developments to the responsible players in politics, business and civil society and raise their raw materials awareness. They build bridges to the players in business, research and administration and help to better understand the increasingly interlinked causes and effects between the individual ecosystems and to work together on solutions. This approach has proven to be an effective means of implementing the LEADER 2030 project and should be continued at European level. Greater interest on the part of political decision-makers and specialised administrations would be helpful. Meanwhile, the “Mining Meet Rail Technology” format of GKZ and Rail.S clusters can be seen as a kind of “best practice” in this field.

Information on the event: Industry excursion: Raw materials management + rail-bound mobility and its challenges beyond 2030 – ERCI (

The LEADER 2030 project (HORIZON-ER-JU-2022-ExplR-06 „European Value Chains for rail supply”) aims to provide a forecast of the actual availability and gaps in the materials and components necessary to produce each of the innovations EU-RAIL is targeting for 2030, and make relevant recommendations for resilience to the EU Institutions and the European Industry. The project is performing its research taking into consideration engineering, geology, chemistry, geopolitics, climate change, regulations, and all necessary inputs suitable to affect the final answer. 

The participants of the excursion in front of the two blast furnaces of voestalpine Stahl Donawitz GmbH plant (Credit: Rail.S)

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