Queensland’s highest priority infrastructure project is making significant progress, with more than a dozen active worksites now established across Brisbane and two massive Tunnel Boring Machines carving through hard rock beneath the CBD.
Construction is forging ahead on Cross River Rail – a new 10.2km rail line from Dutton Park to Bowen Hills, which includes 5.9km of twin tunnels under the Brisbane River and CBD. More than 2,700 people are working on the transformational project, including across 14 separate active worksites.
When complete in 2025, it will include four new underground stations at Boggo Road, Woolloongabba, Albert Street and Roma Street, and upgraded stations at Dutton Park and Exhibition. Six stations on Brisbane’s Southside will also be rebuilt, and three new stations will be constructed on the Gold Coast.
Cross River Rail Delivery Authority CEO, Graeme Newton, said while Cross River Rail still has significant construction works to go, the sheer scale of the project is becoming easier for people to grasp as it takes shape. “Cross River Rail will transform the way we travel to, through and from Brisbane in the future,” Mr Newton said.
“But right now, we’re right into the thick of construction and things are progressing really well. “You would be hard-pressed to go anywhere in Brisbane at the moment, and not come across a Cross River Rail worksite or hoarding – and just as impressive is the sheer scale of work going on out of sight underground right beneath our feet.”
Station boxes and caverns are forming across the project’s four underground stations, work is ongoing in the rail corridor to prepare the wider network for Cross River Rail, and at a specialist facility at Redbank, trains are being fitted out with world-class signalling technology required for safe operation in the twin tunnels.
2021: the year of tunnelling
But the most tangible example of how Cross River Rail is coming together is the relentless progress of its two massive Tunnel Boring Machines, which have been making their way below Brisbane’s CBD.
At 165m long and 1350-tonnes each, TBMs Else and Merle – named after trailblazing engineer Else Shepherd AM and pioneering feminist Merle Thornton AM – are excavating the bulk of Cross River Rail’s twin tunnels. The mega machines launched from Cross River Rail’s Woolloongabba site at the start of the year and will break through at the project’s northern portal near Normanby by the end of 2021, while two roadheaders travel south from Woolloongabba towards Boggo Road to excavate the southern section of tunnels.
“2021 is really the year of tunnelling for Cross River Rail,” Mr Newton said. “Our TBMs are about halfway through their journey, and are currently making their way beneath people’s feet in the heart of Brisbane’s CBD, which includes traversing through our Albert Street station site before breaking through at Roma Street station.
“Our tunnelling crews have been making incredible progress, particularly when you consider some of the engineering challenges involved in moving such massive machines through hard rock beneath a river and a city.” Mr Newton describes the TBMs’ recent journeys below the Brisbane River as one of the project’s most challenging technical aspects so far.
“While tunnelling underneath the river, crews undertook probe drilling around 35m in front of the TBMs, which allowed our workers to determine the type of geology they would be passing through,” he said.
“Our TBMs can change to single-shield mode, which allows them to excavate more safely in areas of potentially low rock strength, and there are systems in place to ensure the machines and tunnels are watertight.”
“Thanks to this technology, as well as the proficiency and skill of our crews, our lead TBM, Else, was able to safely travel under the river in about three weeks – a massive milestone for the project as it meant Cross River Rail had officially crossed the river.” At their deepest point, the twin tunnels are 42m below the river’s surface.
On track despite covid-19
Mr Newton said the feats of engineering are even more remarkable when you consider they have taken place against a backdrop of COVID-19 uncertainty.
“Our major contractors have implemented a range of protective measures including social distancing to limit contact among co workers and ensure all our worksites could remain operational,” he said.
“Because of this, the project’s delivery schedule was not impacted, and we have had zero cases of COVID-19 on our worksites.”
Queensland Minister for Transport and Main Roads, Mark Bailey, said the project’s ability to remain on track during the COVID-19 pandemic means it is able to keep delivering real economic benefits for Queensland when they are needed the most.
“The benefits of Cross River Rail for commuters are extensive and will be enjoyed for decades,” Mr Bailey said. “There will be four new high capacity stations in the inner-city core, upgrades to eight above ground stations with significant accessibility issues, the installation of a new rail signalling system and integration with new bus services like Brisbane Metro.
“But what is not often as widely appreciated or understood are the real economic benefits being delivered for Queenslanders right now.
“As we unite and recover from COVID-19, this transformational project is injecting more than $4 million a day into the economy and more than 1,350 Queensland suppliers and subcontractors have benefitted from the project so far.
“About 7,700 people will work on Cross River Rail during the life of the project, and 450 apprentices and trainees will have got their start on Queensland’s biggest infrastructure project.” Major construction on Cross River Rail is set to be completed in 2024, with services expected to begin in 2025 following a detailed commissioning and testing program.