You would have seen in the news recently that a lucky group of Brisbane residents, students and budding engineers were able to walk a section of the multi-billion dollar Cross River Rail tunnels.
Cross River Rail is one of Queensland’s biggest civil infrastructure projects, which will unlock the rail bottleneck that occurs with only one rail bridge and four major stations within Brisbane’s inner north.
The new ten-kilometre tunnels and line which stretches from Dutton Park in the south to Bowen Hills in the north, will also see new stations at Boggo Road, Woolloongabba and Albert Street, meaning that Brisbane will finally have a rail station in the heart of the city.
In the early days of Brisbane, the area around Albert Street and what is now the CBD was known as Frog’s Hollow – an undesirable, low lying swamp that was prone to flooding.
This was one of the reasons why Central Station is located just north of what is now the middle of the CBD – in fact, Brisbane is one of the only cities in the world not to have a rail network that runs through the middle of the business district.
Along with the project has come the Cross River Rail Experience, which is more than just a visitor centre; it’s a true experience in every sense of the word, with virtual reality stations, a maker space, a 270 degree wrap around theatre and touch screens galore.
Entry to the centre is free which makes it a fantastic school holiday activity in the centre of the city.
Partnering with the Queensland Museum to deliver the experience centre, the designers took advantage of the 3D scanning and mapping that project engineers carried out, to create the virtual reality flyovers and tours of the new rail line and stations.
Russell Vine is the Executive Director, Marketing and Communications for Cross River Rail, and said that this digital experience has been crucial in explaining to visitors what the end product will look like.
“Visitors really love the digital experience because it helps them visualise the project.
“We’ve built the underground tunnels and stations as digital environments – essentially we have created a virtual Brisbane that you can travel through on our virtual railway line and stop at the virtual stations.
“You can pop a VR headset on and spawn yourself virtually to anywhere in Brisbane, and then you can take a tour of those train stations that don’t exist yet, but you can also fly across the city because you’re in virtual reality!”
“It’s a really fun way to learn about the project but it’s also just heaps of fun!”
Of course when you dig big holes in the ground you’re bound to uncover some of the history of Brisbane, and some of these archaeological artefacts are on show at the experience centre.
“Out at Woollonagabba, which was the first site we excavated, we found all sorts of everyday ephemera of mid to late 1800’s life,” says Russell. “Shoes, perfume bottles, inkwells – that was a real window into how people lived their lives, so that was very exciting.”
“At Albert Street we excavated what had previously been the Orient Hotel, so we found a lot of Chinese pottery, we found Chinese currency dating back to the 1600’s as well as clay pipes and opium picks.”
“My favourite object we found though was when we excavated the northern tunnel portals near Victoria Park, where we found a cannon ball! It was a real cannon ball fired, we believe, by what was called the Brisbane Militia, which was an early armed force here in the city.”
There’s also been a great deal of research around what life was like for the indigenous population before colonial settlement.
“We always knew that we needed to understand, honour and appreciate the cultural heritage of the station sites. Brett Leavy is someone who has created something called ‘Virtual Songlines’ which is a virtual Brisbane as it existed in 1819, which pre-dates any colonial settlement.
“He’s created this so that we can understand Brisbane’s cultural heritage. As it turns out his world is richest and most detailed at our station locations.
“So with the virtual reality setup, you’ll be able to go forward in time to when these new stations will exist, but also travel back in time to 1819. So kids, when they come along here, will learn about travel but they’ll also get to travel through time!”
The Cross River Rail Experience is located at 1/151 Elizabeth Street, just across from the Wintergarden Food Court.
Entry is free and there is an elevator and wheelchair accessibility throughout the Experience Centre.
Check out their events page for school holiday activities – the centre is open between 10am and 4pm weekdays, and 10am and 2pm on weekends during the June/July school holidays.
Listen to Russell Vine speaking about the Experience Centre in the audio player at the top of the page.