A boring task as ground-breaking women will again stop Brisbane in its tracks

The Palaszczuk government has named two tunnelling machines after pioneering women, ahead of Cross River Rail works disrupting Christmas services.

Dec 22, 2020, updated Dec 22, 2020
Merle Thornton, who has had one of the city's new excavation machines named after her, at the Regatta Hotel, scene of her very public protest (ABC Photo).

Merle Thornton, who has had one of the city's new excavation machines named after her, at the Regatta Hotel, scene of her very public protest (ABC Photo).

The 1,350-tonne boring machines, as they are technically known, have been named after Merle Thornton AM and Else Shepherd AM.

Shepherd, a South African-Australian engineer and academic, was the first woman to graduate with an electrical engineering degree in Queensland. The 76-year-old was on hand for the naming ceremony today at the Woolloongabba site.

“By being a female engineer when there weren’t many of us, I hope I’ve given other women the courage to do what they want to do – there’s nothing stopping us,” Shepherd said.

Thornton, 90, is best known in Brisbane for a women’s rights protest at the Regatta Hotel in 1965, when she and Rosalie Bogner chained themselves to the men-only public bar. Thornton is also an author and academic, and the mother of actor Sigrid Thornton, and sent a video message today.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve had a ‘boring’ life, but I have always tried to cut through on various social issues, so perhaps it is fitting to have my name on one of these massive tunnelling machines,” Thornton remarked.

Transport Minister Mark Bailey said the machines were traditionally named after women, going back to the 1950s when miners prayed to Saint Barbara to protect them underground.

“It’s an honour to be able to name these ground-breaking machines – which will pave the way for the Palaszczuk Government’s largest public transport project – after two of Queensland’s ground-breaking women,” said Transport Minister Mark Bailey.

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The machines will launch early next year and tunnel from the southside, under the Brisbane River to the new Albert Street station by mid-2021, continue on to the Roma Street station – where all buildings have now been demolished – before emerging at the project’s northern portal at Normanby.

For commuters, it appears there will be short-term pain for long-term gain under the $5.4 billion project, with Christmas services set to be disrupted to allow for Cross River Rail works.

Track closures, predominantly through the inner city, southern lines, and on the Ferny Grove line, will see services disrupted between Christmas Day and December 29. The system will run to a Sunday timetable on public holidays, however buses will replace trains at affected stations.

Works will include excavation and installation of signalling infrastructure between Dutton Park, Park Road and Buranda stations; and signalling and maintenance works between Roma Street and Bowen Hills.

Commuters will not be able to use Cross River Rail services until 2025, however the new underground system promises to improve connections and revitalise the CBD.

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