The depths of a coal mine couldn't be considered ideal driving conditions for most vehicles, but the Mk7.0 TIER 3 Mine Cruiser isn't most vehicles. GE recently announced that it has delivered its 500th Mine Cruiser, which is a four-wheel drive utility vehicle capable of carrying up to 14 passengers, yet is built to operate safely in the vast galleries of modern underground coal mines.

Coal mining has progressed a long way from the days of miners hauling buckets and wheelbarrows through narrow tunnels. A modern colliery can descend hundreds, if not thousands of feet down and spread out over a wide area as giant machines gouge out and shore up huge galleries in the quest of “black gold.” Although this may increase production, it also means that once miners descend the lift, they often face a long, tiring and hazardous trek before they can get to work.

Described by GE as providing an “industrial safari” in style, the Mine Cruiser is one car that never needs to worry about what the birds will do to the paintwork and its massive bonnet and its flat sides festooned with safety stripes aren't going to win any beauty contests. However, the Mine Cruiser is specially made to handle the conditions in a coal mine.

Built by Australian GE subsidiary Industrea, the Mine Cruiser is built on a heavy duty A-frame suspension to carry not only 14 passengers, but also all the emission control gear and anti-explosion protection that make up a lot of its 6,600 kg (14,550 lb) weight. It’s powered by a 4.3 liter, 4-cylinder MWM 4.10TCA Series 10 diesel turbo-charged engine with mechanical fuel injection that puts out 107 bhp (80 kW) and 265 ft-lb (360 Nm) of torque. There’s a 3-speed Dana/Clark powershift gearbox feeding into the integral four-wheel drive, and front planetary steer and rear rigid axles.

GE hasn't much to say about the performance, though it’s highly unlikely that the Mine Cruiser will ever see a track day.

But what really sets the Mine Cruiser apart from its surface dwelling cousins are the safety features. Normally, when you mention safety features, this conjures up visions of seat belts, airbags, and crumple zones. On the Mine Cruiser, when GE refers to safety features they are focused on not causing an explosion and blowing up an entire mine gallery.

The thing about coal mines is that, however good the ventilation systems, there’s going to be a lot of coal dust about, and this very fine dust that is extremely flammable to the point of being explosive. If it reaches temperatures above 163° C (325° F), its liable to ignite. That’s why coal industry regulations require all surfaces in the mine to be no hotter than 150° C (300° F), and that’s a problem when a car engine is involved.

To keep the day from ending in a very loud bang, the Mine Cruiser’s manifold is encased in a water jacket and the exhaust goes through a water percolator to cool it and remove impurities. By the time it comes out the tailpipe, the gases are no hotter than 77° C (170° F). In addition to this, the engine is rigged with all manner of spark arrestors and all the components are pressure tested to keep all the combustion inside where it won’t do any harm.

Another danger down the mines is methane or fire damp. To prevent setting this off, the Mine Cruiser is equipped with an electronic methane monitoring system, which constantly measures the amount of methane in the air. If the concentration gets too high, the engine is designed to automatically cut out. If worse comes to worse, there’s also a fire suppression system available.

The Mk7.0 TIER 3 Mine Cruiser is built at by GE Industrea’s workshops in New South Wales, Australia.

Source: GE