Tunnels are great when you put the right things in them

Here’s a review is of Brisbane’s cross river rail, planned as a tunnel under the Brisbane River, prompted by a recent article in the Courier Mail. Here’s a visual of the tunnel from this article.
Investigations into this link have been extensive over many years. Basically Brisbane runs out of rail capacity in the next few years without it. The Newman State government also did some really good work about how to deliver it more cost efficiently and delay its construction by squeezing more capacity out of the current infrastructure. It’s now estimated to cost $4.4 billion rather than earlier estimates of $8.5b later reduced to $6.4b.

The article observes that “The project was declared a national priority more than six months ago but all levels of government are yet to commit funding.”. It quotes two members of Australia’s Reserve Bank: “investing in key urban projects would unlock a new cycle of productivity to replace the commodity price boom and continue the 21-year run of growth”. One of them is also “calling on governments, state and federal, to go into deficit, if necessary, to fund the infrastructure or to find ways to harness the savings sitting in superannuation accounts”.

The article also quoted the head of the Federal Government’s infrastructure advisory body, Infrastructure Australia: “Building the Cross River Rail should be the state’s top infrastructure priority” and also “We think that Cross River Rail line would be transformational for Brisbane”.

So on to my review.

The project delivers much needed capacity to the heavy rail system, the backbone of the region’s public transport system, and new “missing link” stations in the urban renewal precinct of Woolloongabba and in Albert Street in the heart of the city. This is city building infrastructure, which will help reshape and redefine our image of Brisbane, as a place with high quality rail and the beginnings of an “underground”.

It would also be a statement that delivering major public transport in tunnels is more effective than burying roads, which Brisbane has been doing to the great cost of many, to little effect. The Clem 7 tunnel is now in receivership and facing a potential class action, and the newer Airport Link tunnel is teetering on the brink. Both have a record of traffic usage significantly below projections.

I have yet to find a city in the world that has solved congestion by road building. The most successful cities are those that invest heavily in other modes, particularly transit and active transport (cycling and walking).

A common argument that keeping road traffic running freely is necessary for economic success. But research indicates that the most economically successful cities also have significant levels of congestion, because they are economically successful. Some great work reported in The Atlantic Cities concludes “automobile congestion, vehicle delay, and their proxy, level-of-service, are not measures of system efficiency. Nor are they measures of economic vitality. They are nothing more or less than measures of how convenient it is to drive an automobile.”

Brisbane aims to be Australia’s new world city and cross river rail is important to that aim. Even Wikipedia recognizes that extensive and popular transit and high rail usage is part of being a world city.

And check out these comparisons (drawn from relevant literature):



Estimated Capacity/hour*




7-8,000 people

Airport Link



7-8,000 people

Cross River Rail

$4.4b (est)


24-30,000 people

*Based on 1800-2000 people per lane

Strategic investment to unlock economic and social dividends is always a key role of government. I support the suggestion that governments going into debt or unlocking super funds to fund this city building infrastructure. The current austerity push at all levels of government to reign in spending is not the best economic policy for today, but that’s another story.

And so I cheer loudly for the supportive comments for this project in this article. The strategic investment in Cross River Rail is one important key to unlocking future economic and social dividends for Brisbane and Queensland.

Another report in today’s Courier Mail asks whether the project will become an election issue. I hope it does become a project in the centre of government decision making.

And so my conclusion in reviewing Cross River Rail? Go you good thing!


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  1. shane s. says:

    Good review Greg – even without specific mentions of cities like Boston & San Francisco that have removed most or parts of their cross-city arterial roads in favour of further investment in Metro/transit.

    CRR is a must. Planning is ready & waiting to support it.

    • vanndemon says:

      Thanks Spargo. Boston actually spent a bucket full on its big dig about 10 years ago, burying a lot of freeways, but these were replacing old ones that had outlived their design life. Anyway, agree that CRR is a must!

  2. slamiam says:

    Some well-reasoned thinking still exists in the world. There has to be a switch away from the thinking that transport just means roads and cars.

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