Deep below the earth inside the mountain near Franzensfeste, they progress meter by meter. Time permitting, Giovanni Brentari, Division Manager at Würth Italy, ventures into the surreal hole in the cliff and delves deep into the stone in order to take stock of the current situation. He is confronted with illuminated roads, cars and trucks driving to and fro, people concentrating on their work, 3,000 of them on the Italian side alone. It smells a bit musty, with a whiff of ammonia wafting through the enormous hose from time to time. The aftermath of the last explosion. On the plus side, it is always a pleasant 21 degrees Celsius inside, no matter the whims of the weather outside. “It is the entrance into another world,” says Brentari.
That other world is the construction site for the Brenner Base Tunnel (BBT), one of the most important infrastructure projects in Europe. At 1,371 meters, the Brenner Tunnel is arguably the lowest but most-traveled alpine pass. It is one of the most important segments on the European trade route from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean, connecting the Austrian state of Tyrol to the Italian province of South Tyrol. Forty percent of the goods transported across the Alps is carried along this route. The trip over the tracks of the 150-year-old Brenner Railway is cumbersome. Up to three locomotives are required to push and pull the wagons safely over inclines and slopes.
The new flat railway tunnel, which will be the longest underground railway in the world at 64 kilometers, should shift the freight transport onto the rails and help alleviate traffic on the Brenner motorway. Currently, the tunneling experts are drilling into the alpine ridge from four different locations, two in Austria and two in Italy. With colossal drills and explosive charges, they fight their way through quartz phyllite, slate, gneiss, and granite. Once the new connection is officially opened at the end of 2027, freight trains (with just one locomotive) will roll through the tunnel at 120 km/h, with passenger trains reaching a top speed of 250 km/h. Coming from Innsbruck (at 575 meters), passengers can see the light of day again after 25 minutes of travel time at 750 meters in elevation. Here in Franzensfeste – or Fortezza as the Italians say.
ELEVEN LANGUAGES ARE SPOKEN ON THE CONSTRUCTION SITE
Of the roughly ten billion euro in construction costs, Austria and Italy will each cover 30 percent, while the EU contributes 40 percent. The European mindset has long since become embedded in the construction sector. Konrad Bergmeister, appointed project manager on the Austrian side by the company BBT SE, listened very carefully: Eleven languages are spoken on the construction site. That is not the only thing that makes this gigantic construction project so diverse. Brentari and his colleagues attend to eighty Würth customers in Franzensfeste. Major enterprises along with small and large subcontractors. “That is why,” says Project Manager Stefano Oss Pegorar from Würth Italy, “we always have to stay close to our customers.”
Although its headquarters are located just one hour away from Baulos in Franzenfeste, Würth Italy opened its own BAULOC® Shop directly on the construction site in June 2017. A BAULOC® Shop is always geared towards the requirements of the current construction phase. Around 1,500 different products are available there for the customers. From fasteners to anchor technology, from automotive parts to measuring tools, from construction materials to personal protective equipment, the selection bears witness to Würth’s experience in tunnel construction. Three employees are now looking after this project full time. The sales representative remains in constant contact with the customers and even makes the deliveries himself; one is responsible for logistics, another plays libero in the back office. After all, according to Oss Pegorar, “Time is of utmost importance, the orders are always for yesterday.” Here it is all about even better discounts, additional products and services. “Every day,” says Brentari, “is a new challenge.”
Those on the other side of the mountain follow such news with great interest. Würth Austria is preparing itself to supply the BBT construction site with work material on its side. This fall, work commenced on the new main construction segment Pfons-Brenner, where one billion euro is to be invested. At the start of October, a new Würth BAULOC® Shop was opened directly on the access road to the construction site, with more than enough parking spaces. “Whoever drives to work has to pass by us,” says Benjamin Stadler, Project Manager at Würth Austria. More than 3,000 Würth products, showcased on a 350-square-meter sales floor, will be installed in the rock or used to upkeep the machinery in the future. Products are not only sold here but also delivered directly. “One of the distinctive attributes about such a large construction site is the wide range of contact points,” says Stadler, “you really have to get to know them first.” Furthermore, Würth Austria hopes to be ahead of the competition during the second phase.
In 2022, construction will commence on the interior of the underground railway. This will require completely different specialists, and thus different Würth products as well. The first call for tenders is already out. It is therefore the right time to cultivate contacts and show our worth. This is one of the reasons for which Würth is presenting itself at the “Geomechanics Colloquium” in Salzburg this year for the third time. At the 67th edition of the event, Würth will focus once more on demonstrating its capabilities to the mining and tunneling industry. “Before sales start to come in,” says Stadler as he explains the new sales concept, “we have to invest a great deal of time, money and manpower.” That is why he considers the Brenner Base Tunnel project to be both “an opportunity and an adventure.”
And it is always characterized by an exchange with the colleagues in Italy. They are planning to open a 24-hour sales branch office in the near future. After all, they are working around the clock deep below the rocks.