Cross River Rail’s Merle Tunnel welcomes a walking tour group before the track is laid

More than 100 Queensland residents have left their mark on the Cross River Rail tunnel on a “once-in-a-lifetime tour” before the track is built for a multi-billion dollar project.

The north portal entrance, next to the inner city bypass, was open for people to walk through on Sunday.

Members of the group signed their names on a commemorative sign that will be kept on a wall in the tunnel.

Cross River Rail, stretching from Dutton Park to Bowen Hills, is a new 10.2 km rail line with 5.9 km of twin tunnels under the Brisbane River and CBD.

Janelle put her name on the memorial board.ABC Radio Brisbane: Antonia O’Flaherty

Construction on the $5.4 billion project is expected to be completed in 2024 and the next tests and security checks are expected to be operational by 2025.

The public walked about 470 meters into the Merle tunnel at the north portal, next to the inner-city bypass which descended about 100 feet (30 meters) underground.

An image showing a map of the rail network across the river
The Cross River Rail network is 10.2 kilometers long.Supplied: Cross River Rail

The north portal is where trains enter and exit the Cross River Rail tunnels.

The group toured the Merle Tunnel, named after Merle Thornton AM, who famously chained herself to the Regatta Hotel bar in 1965 to protest a ban on women drinking in public bars in Queensland.

The double tunnel is named after the first female electrical engineering graduate in Queensland, Else Shepherd AM.

An image of people walking through the Cross River Rail tunnel
The tour group consisted of people who had won an ABC competition.ABC Radio Brisbane: Antonia O’Flaherty

Traditionally, the drills are named after women and the tunnels will bear their name.

Harold Thornton, Mrs Thornton’s son, walked through the tunnel to celebrate the tunnel being named after his mother.

An image of Harold Thornton at the exit of the north portal of Cross River Rail
Harold Thornton says his mother is quite excited about her latest honor.ABC Radio Brisbane: Antonia O’Flaherty

“She thinks it’s fantastic. She has had a number of awards over the years, receiving an Order of Australia and an honorary doctorate [of Letters] from the University of Queensland, but this is the icing on the cake, it’s something people will use permanently in Brisbane.”

Tour inspires next generation

Novice engineer Covey Reyes, a 12-year-old Craigslea State High School student, said it was an “amazing” experience walking through the tunnel.

“We’ve talked to engineers, as students, we’ve seen how it applies to real life. We need to understand how they reduce environmental factors, how they solve their biggest problems,” he said.

An image of Danna Nino and Covey Reyes outside the North Portal Tunnel of Cross River Rail
Danna Nino and Covey Reyes say the tour inspired them to follow their dreams of becoming an engineer.ABC Radio Brisbane: Antonia O’Flaherty

“As students, this event was really great for us to watch because it inspires and influences us about our future and what technologies we will be able to achieve and what projects we will be able to create.

The event followed the long tradition of river town dwellers walking on bridges and through tunnels before opening, including the Clem 7, Captain Cook Bridge, Legacy Way, Gateway and Airport Link.

Engineering enthusiast John Missen, who turns 75 next week, has now toured the Cross River Rail, Legacy Way, Clem 7 and the Airport Link tunnels.

An image of Paul Ferguson and John Missen in the Cross River Rail tunnel
Paul Ferguson and John Missen enjoyed exploring the north portal of the Cross River Rail.ABC Radio Brisbane: Antonia O’Flaherty

“It’s an engineering feat, probably one of the Seven Great Wonders of Queensland,” he said.

“We just have to keep going, [the] 2032 [Olympic Games] is not far away, 10 years, and we have to put infrastructure in place, it has to be that all systems disappear.”

‘Epic’ project for growing region

Jeremy Kruger, program director for Cross River Rail’s supply authority, said the walk was possible during a window between excavation and concrete that was reversed before railroad tracks, walkways and other infrastructure were built.

“Within the tunnels, we are starting to lay the railway, the tracks, through the tunnel, we still have the four underground stations under construction,” Mr Kruger said.

Leave a Comment