Pacific National takes part in experimental blockchain delivery

17 tonnes of almonds have been shipped from Mildura in Victoria to Hamburg in Germany in a blockchain-based collaboration between Commonwealth Bank and five supply chain partners, including Australian rail operator Pacific National.

Using a platform underpinned by distributed ledger technology, smart contracts, and the Internet of Things (IoT), Commonwealth Bank says its experimental shipment has demonstrated the value of blockchain in tracking shipments from packer to end delivery.

CommBank says its platform digitises three key areas of global trade – operations, documentation and finance – by housing the container information, completion of tasks and shipping documents, on a purpose-built blockchain.

Partners in the almond experiment were able to view and track the location of the shipment as well as view the conditions, such as temperature and humidity inside the container, via four IoT devices.

CommBank said this level of data provided partners in the supply chain with a greater level of transparency and efficiency regarding the location, condition and authentication of the goods being transported.

At the documentation layer, the blockchain-enabled supply chain allowed partners to upload and access key documents, such as bill of lading, certificates of origin and other documents required by customs, which streamlined these processes.

CBA partnered with Olam Orchards, Pacific National, Port of Melbourne, stevedore Patrick Terminals, shipping carrier OOCL, and Australian IoT provider LX Group to ship the almonds.

“Since the expansion of globalisation, global supply chains have continued to become more complex,” Pacific National chief financial officer Gerhard Ziems said.

“This project is unique as it looks to re-imagine how the supply chain communicates and shares information. Simple access to this information provides us with an ability to better utilise our assets and provide customers with better, more efficient services.”

Olam Orchards Australia supply chain manager Emma Roberts added: “Trade inefficiency can be extremely detrimental to our business. It is vital that as an industry, we look at emerging technology for ways to enhance the supply chain to develop a more transparent and efficient platform.

“This project has shown that through collaboration from all parts of the supply chain that this can be achieved.”

CBA’s managing director of industrials and logistics in client coverage, Chris Scougall, said the blockchain-enabled global trade platform experiment brought to life the idea of a modern global supply chain that is agile, efficient and transparent.

“We believe that blockchain can help our partners reduce the burden of administration on their businesses and enable them to deliver best-in-class services to their customers,” Scougall said.

“We thrive on the opportunity to work with our customers to help them adapt to changing industry trends, particularly technology. It was key to us that we partner with businesses across the entire supply chain, so we could get a holistic picture of how this technology could impact and improve the efficiency of the transport and logistics industry.”

ARA praises NSW’s collaborative research approach

Australasia’s leading rail industry body has praised the New South Wales Government for plans to develop a new Research Hub within the state’s transport department.

Transport for NSW’s Research Hub will use a collaborative research model to inform government and the transport community on future innovation and planning.

The state says the Hub is designed to foster engagement, innovation and information between TfNSW and the tertiary sector, industry, and other government agencies interested in transport-related research.

Australasian Railway Association boss Danny Broad said collaboration between government and the private sector is crucial to enable rail to play its part as the state’s population to grows by over 12 million by 2056.

“We are on the cusp of an era that will see mobility revolutionised across the nation,” Broad said on June 29. “Rail will play a significant, central role in this, relieving congestion, reducing harmful emissions and contributing to improved, safer connectivity in our cities and in our regions.”

Broad said the new Hub would help combine the research resources of various institutions, to generate “greater heft” behind the implementation of new and innovative ideas in the transport sector.

“The Hub should help avoid unnecessary duplication of research efforts and facilitate the coordination of research activities to drive a leading-edge approach to mobility,” he added.”

“The Research Hub is an exemplar for other states to follow and the rail sector sees this as an initiative that could be cross-pollinated across all Australian jurisdictions.”

Photo: Auckland Transport

Growing cities face challenges of keeping the masses moving up, down and across

Cities are expanding upwards and downwards, as well as outwards. With urban density also increasing, moving people efficiently around the city, often using ageing infrastructure, is quite a challenge, Andrea Connor and Donald McNeill write.


Cities worldwide face the problems and possibilities of “volume”: the stacking and moving of people and things within booming central business districts. We see this especially around mass public transport hubs.

As cities grow, they also become more vertical. They are expanding underground through rail corridors and above ground into the tall buildings that shape city skylines. Cities are deep as well as wide.

The urban geographer Stephen Graham describes cities as both “vertically stacked” and “vertically sprawled”, laced together by vertical and horizontal transport systems.

People flow in large cities is not only about how people move horizontally on rail and road networks into and out of city centres. It also includes vertical transport systems. These are the elevators, escalators and moving sidewalks that commuters use every day to get from the underground to the surface street level.

Major transport hubs are where many vertical and horizontal transport systems converge. It’s here that people flows are most dense.

But many large cities face the twin challenges of ageing infrastructure and increased volumes of people flowing through transport hubs. Problems of congestion, overcrowding, delays and even lockouts are becoming more common.

Governments are increasingly looking for ways to squeeze more capacity out of existing infrastructure networks.

Can we increase capacity by changing behaviour?

For the last three years, Transport for London (TfL) has been running standing-only escalator trials. The aim is to see if changing commuter behaviour might increase “throughput” of people and reduce delays.

London has some of the deepest underground stations in the world. This means the Tube system is heavily reliant on vertical transport such as escalators. But a long-standing convention means people only stand on the right side and allow others to walk up on the left.

In a trial at Holborn Station, one of London’s deepest at 23 metres, commuters were asked to stand on both sides during morning rush hour.

The results of the trials showed that changing commuter behaviour could improve throughput by increasing capacity by as much as 30% at peak times. But this works only in Tube stations with very tall escalators. At stations with escalators less than 18 metres high, like Canary Wharf, the trials found the opposite – standing would only increase congestion across the network.

By standing only, 30% more people could fit on an escalator in the trial at Holborn Station.

The difference is down to human behaviour. People are simply less willing to walk up very tall escalators. This means a standing-only policy across the network won’t improve people flow uniformly and could even make congestion worse.

Is people movement data a solution?

With the introduction of ticketless transport cards it’s now possible to gather more data about people flow through busy transport hubs as we tap on and off.

Tracking commuters’ in-station journeys through their Wi-Fi enabled devices, such as smart phones, can also offer a detailed picture of movement between platforms, congestion and delays.

Transport for London has already conducted its first Wi-Fi tracking trial in the London Underground.

Issues of privacy loom large in harvesting mobile data from individual devices. Still, there’s enormous potential to use this data to resolve issues of overcrowding and inform commuters about delays and congestion en route.

Governments are also increasingly turning to consultancy firms that specialise in simulation modelling of people flow. That’s everything from check-in queues and processing at terminals, to route tracking and passenger flow on escalators.

Using data analytics, people movement specialists identify movement patterns, count footfall and analyse commuter behaviour. In existing infrastructure, they look to achieve “efficiencies” through changes to scheduling and routing, and assessing the directional flow of commuters.

Construction and engineering companies are also beginning to employ people movement specialists during the design phase of large infrastructure projects.

Beijing’s Daxing airport, due for completion in 2020, will be the largest transport hub in China. It’s also the first major infrastructure project to use crowd simulation and analysis software during the design process to test anticipated volume against capacity.

The advice of people movement specialists can have significant impacts on physical infrastructure. This involves aspects such as the width of platforms, number and placement of gates, and the layout and positioning of vertical transport, such as escalators.

Movement analytics is becoming big business

People movement analytics is becoming big business, especially where financialisation of public assets is increasing. This means infrastructure is being developed through complex public-private partnership models. As a result, transport hubs are now also commercial spaces for retail, leisure and business activities.

Commuters are no longer only in transit when they make their way through these spaces. They are potential consumers as they move through the retail concourse in many of these developments.

In an era of “digital disruption”, which is particularly affecting the retail sector, information about commuter mobility has potential commercial value. The application of data analytics to people flow and its use by the people movement industry to achieve “efficiencies” needs careful scrutiny to ensure benefits beyond commercial gain.

At the same time, mobility data may well help our increasingly vertical cities to keep flowing up, down and across.

Andrea Connor is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University, and Donald McNeill is Professor of Urban and Cultural Geography, Western Sydney University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.

Federal budget, tenders update, R&D highlight May-June issue

The latest edition of Rail Express magazine is now available to read in its digital, true-to-print format.

Highlights of this issue include a full review of the federal budget, including a $5 billion splash for Melbourne Airport rail, funding for Queensland’s north-south rail corridor and controversy over a new import levy.

There’s also a feature on tendering, which looks at some big wins in recent months for key firms like Arup, Mott Macdonald and Aecom.

And don’t miss our supplement on Below Rail Infrastructure & Network, where we hear from Siemens on how signalling can help Australia’s struggling passenger networks cope with rapid demand growth.

Click here to read the May-June edition of  Rail Express

$7.3m training centre opened at UoW

Federal education and training minister Simon Birmingham has officially launched the University of Wollongong’s new rail training centre.

ITTC Rail is the shorthand for the new Australian Research Council (ARC) Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Advanced Technologies in Rail Track Infrastructure.

Set up to train the next generation of rail engineers, it is the first ever rail training centre to be funded by the Australian Government, with a $3.9 million ARC grant supported by an additional $3.4 million in contributions from the NSW Government and industry and university partners.

Headquartered at the University of Wollongong, ITTC Rail is designed to bring together rail track infrastructure expertise from all sectors of the industry, with eight universities and 11 national and international industry partners taking part.

“Given the dependency of the Australian economy on efficient heavy haul, there is a pressing need to upgrade ageing rail infrastructure by rejuvenating higher degree training with a new generation of engineers with advanced knowledge and practice skills,” ITTC Rail director Buddhima Indraratna said.

Professor Indraratna said improvements in the efficiency, reliability and cost-effectiveness of freight haulage can have significant flow-on benefits to the rest of the economy, increasing productivity in industries including agriculture, mining and manufacturing.

Commuter transport will also be included in ITTC Rail’s work, with a focus on how new materials, advanced manufacturing and innovative design and construction can benefit that sector.

“Australia also has some of the world’s heaviest as well as longest heavy-haul trains, exceeding four kilometres at times, with considerable challenges offered to railway engineers along problematic soil terrains,” Indraratna continued.

“Through specialist training of industry-focused researchers, ITTC Rail will meet the challenge of designing, constructing and maintaining the rail network.

“This will involve close collaboration with companies in the rail supply chain, programs to promote novel design approaches, and innovative fabrication of products using advanced manufacturing techniques.”

Minister Birmingham opened the training centre officially on May 23.

“Our commitment to rail infrastructure investment will generate jobs, ease congestion in our cities, increase the capacity of our freight routes and better connect regional areas,” the minister said.

“The Turnbull Government’s investment in the new training centre at the University of Wollongong will ensure Australia’s future workforce has the specialised skills and expertise to deliver on projects such as the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail, the Port Botany Rail Upgrade and the Melbourne Airport Rail Link.”

Universities contributing to ITTC Rail are University of Wollongong, Swinburne University of Technology, University of Sydney, Queensland University of Technology, Curtin University, University of Queensland, Western Sydney University and University of Newcastle.

Industry partners are the Australasian Centre for Rail Innovation, Metro Trains Melbourne, Bridgestone Corporation, Snowy Mountains Engineering Corp, Innovative Technology Beijing, China Railway Eryuan Engineering Group, Ecoflex International, Geofrontiers, Polyfabrics Australasia, Nu-rock Technology and Elasto-Plastic Concrete.

Julia Creek first freight train. Photo: Queensland Rail

Council targeting end of year for national freight strategy

A better-integrated national freight network facilitated by coordinated investment will help meet the needs of Australian businesses and households, under a program being developed by federal, state and territory transport and infrastructure ministers.

The first 2018 meeting of the Coalition of Australian Governments’ Transport and Infrastructure Council took place on Friday, and kicked off with the release of 54 “priority actions” stemming from a recent industry inquiry.

The National Freight and Supply Chain Priorities Report will inform the Council’s development of a National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy, which is targeted for release at the end of 2018.

The actions recommended to the Council through the inquiry cover national government investment, institutional and governance structures, and legislative reform.

Priority actions include measures to integrate the freight transport system through coordinated project investment and planning and updates to data gathering on national freight performance.

The report also recommends that government investment is targeted at establishing efficient rail freight connections to major ports and through metropolitan areas, and that investigations be carried out into potential overlapping in approval processes for major freight infrastructure projects.

Federal transport and infrastructure minister Michael McCormack said the finalised strategy would improve Australian business competitiveness by making commodity movements quicker and more efficient.

“We know the national freight task will almost double over the next 20 years, which presents a challenge and opportunity to work with industry to maximise the benefit from the sector which already contributes around 10 per cent of our productivity,” McCormack said.

“I thank the panel for its report, which provides a platform for government to look at opportunities to drive efficient and sustainable freight logistics while balancing the freight needs of a growing economy and ensuring the sector and the community share the benefits too.”

The expert panel that conducted the inquiry included Qube managing director Maurice James, Infrastructure Australia board member Nicole Lockwood, NSW Ports CEO Marika Calfas, and Simon National Carriers executive chairman David Simon.

In developing the report, the panel drew on 127 submissions and one-on-one meetings with over 200 individuals from 28 peak industry bodies and 90 businesses, along with research commissioned by the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities.

Australasian Railway Association chief executive Danny Broad said the rail industry welcomed the report, and noted that it reflected many of the ARA’s policy priorities, including in the areas of corridor protection, heavy vehicle pricing, short haul rail, consistency between state and federal plans, and improved land use planning.

“The final report provides a range of recommendations across the critical areas of investment, governance and reform which are critical to improving the efficiency and productivity of the freight rail sector,” Broad said.

“The rail industry is pleased that key recommendations include the sector playing a direct consultative role in the strategy’s development and a formal advisory role thereafter.”

Now that the report has outlined these priority actions, Broad said that it was important that “momentum” was maintained to by developing a clear path to their implementation via federal and state coordination.

“We need strong leadership at the Commonwealth level to drive these recommendations and reforms forward, working closely with state and territory governments to follow-through with recommendations, supported by a clear and transparent workplan to assist industry in monitoring and tracking progress to ensure governments are kept to account and key recommendations in this Report are adopted and implemented effectively.”

The Australian Logistics Council likewise welcomed what it called a “comprehensive” report into the problems facing currently facing the freight industry and the measures needed to address them.

“The report articulates the challenges that are hampering greater supply chain efficiency and safety – a lack of data, antiquated planning practices, poorly coordinated infrastructure investment and poor appreciation of freight’s economic importance,” ALC managing director Michael Kilgariff said.

“This report now gives all governments the opportunity to work cooperatively to develop a coherent and effective strategy that addresses each of these priority areas.”

Kilgariff noted that, due to the “complexity of the jurisdictional cooperation” that would be involved in the execution of the strategy nationally, an intergovernmental agreement may have to be pursued. He also welcomed the report’s suggestion that an “Industry Advisory Group” monitor the implementation of the finalised strategy.

“We urge the federal government to move swiftly to establish this body, and attach clear deadlines to key milestones within the strategy when it is released in November.”

Melbourne to host UITP 2021

The International Association of Public Transport has selected Melbourne as the host city for its massive Global Public Transport Summit in 2021, the first time the event has made its way south of the equator in over 25 years.

The association, known as UITP (Union Internatinoale des Transports Publics), announced Melbourne as the winning bidder for UITP 2021 on May 16, after it was shortlisted alongside Moscow and Hamburg late last year.

UITP said Public Transport Victoria would serve as the local host for the event.

“With the biggest tram network in the world and major projects expected to be well underway during 2021, it will be the perfect time to showcase what our city has to offer,” PTV chief executive Jeroen Weimar said.

Victorian public transport minister Jacinta Allan said the state was home to some of Australia’s biggest infrastructure projects.

“With our massive program of major transport projects like the Metro Tunnel and level crossing removals, it makes sense that the world’s biggest public transport conference wants to come to Victoria,” Allan said.

Why are fewer Londoners taking the tube? A transport researcher explains

ANALYSIS: TfL’s money troubles worsen, as passenger numbers fall for the first time in two decades, Nicole Badstuber writes.

For the first time since 2008, the number of people using the world-famous London Underground – locally known as “the tube” – has fallen. After over two decades of long-term growth, passenger numbers are down 2%, from 1.38 billion in the financial year 2016-17, to 1.35 billion in 2017-18. Bus use also peaked in 2014, and has been falling steadily each year. Simply put, fewer people in London are using public transport – and this means fewer ticket sales. This has created a funding gap that puts plans for improvements and upgrades in serious jeopardy.

Since the national government cut its £700m a year grant, London’s transport agency, Transport for London (TfL), has been banking on ticket sales to fund the capital’s transport system. But this year, TfL has had to revise its income from tickets sales down by £240m.

This spells trouble for the agency, which plans for ticket sales to generate up to £6.2 billion, or 62%, of the £10.2 billion budget for 2022-23 – a step increase from today’s £4.6 billion, or 45% of this year’s budget. Since London Mayor Sadiq Khan is committed to freezing single fares, additional growth will need to come from more passengers.

This is, in some ways, a reasonable expectation: population and employment – the key drivers of transport demand – are still growing in London. TfL points towards economic factors, including the uncertainty of Brexit, to explain the downturn in demand for public transport. But this year’s lower passenger numbers point instead towards lifestyle changes, which are affecting when and how people choose to travel.

London’s missing passengers

Travel surveys show that the average Londoner made only 2.2 trips (across all transport modes) a day in 2016-17, down 20% from 2006-7. So despite population growth, transport demand has not risen as much as expected. This decline is mirrored across England: between 2002 and 2016 a 9% drop in trips across all modes was recorded.

Passenger numbers on London Underground. Author created using data from London DataStore.

Flexible and remote working practices are contributing to this trend: instead of commuting to work five days, the new normal for Londoners is now four. Over the past decade, commuting trips have dropped by 14.2%.

At the same time, the cost of travel has been increasing. While single fares on the bus and the tube cost approximately the same in real terms between 2000 and 2012, they have increased 5% and 3% respectively since then. The cost of season tickets is up even more; 8% on the bus and 6% on the London Underground in real terms since 2012.

Greater transport costs mean less disposable income, which explains why Londoners are making fewer leisure and shopping trips, instead opting to stay home and shop online. Meanwhile, London’s changing mix of traffic suggests that personal trips are being substituted with deliveries. This shifts the burden from the public transport network to the road network. Across London, light goods vans are making up a growing proportion of traffic: accounting for 14% of traffic in 2016, up from 10% in 1993 and 11% in 2000.

Trouble for TfL

To avoid a major shortfall, TfL will need look at new ways to fund transport. One solution might be to reform London’s congestion charge. Currently, the congestion charge covers less than 1.5% of the city, applies only between 7am and 6pm, consists of a simple, daily flat rate, and exempts private hire vehicles – your Uber drivers and minicabs.

Over the past four years, there has been a 75% increase in the number of registered private hire vehicles. On Friday and Saturday nights, 18,000 cars flood the streets of Central London. With New York City set to introduce a surcharge for taxis and private hire vehicles (US$2.50 and US$2.75 respectively), London might also want to follow suit.

A more comprehensive road pricing strategy would be an effective tool to manage traffic and generate funds for the transport system. A reformed congestion charge alongside good public transport, cycling infrastructure and public space could encourage Londoners to shift away from their cars toward travelling by public transport, walking and cycling.

TfL predicts that most of it’s revenue growth – £3.2 billion over the next five years – will come from the new Elizabeth Line, which is set to start running in December 2018. By 2022-23, TfL expects passenger numbers on the Elizabeth Line to increase by 200m to 269m, and tickets sales to earn £913m. Over the same period, passenger numbers on the London Underground and bus network are forecast to rise by just 5% and 3% respectively.

The income from the Elizabeth Line is crucial to TfL balancing its books. As outgoing deputy mayor for transport, Val Shawcross, warned, delays to the Elizabeth Line opening on time are TfL’s greatest revenue risk. So as engineering challenges threaten to push back the opening date, TfL’s money worries look set to worsen.

The funding conundrum

TfL is also seeking to earn from developments on some of the 300 acres of land it owns in the city. By 2022-23, the property partnerships agreed between TfL and thirteen large property development companies in 2016 are set to generate £3.4 billion of income to reinvest into London’s transport system. London Mayor Sadiq Khan is pushing for further sites to be unlocked, to generate more funds and meet his manifesto commitment to build more affordable homes for Londoners.

Khan’s manifesto pledge to freeze single fare tickets throughout his term is estimated to cost £640m. Arguably, reneging on that promise could return £640m to TfL’s purse. TfL points to national rail services where fares are higher and the reduction in passenger numbers has been greater, and argue that the fare freeze blunted the drop in passenger numbers.

The ConversationIf TfL fails to find new ways to fund its network, more cuts to upgrade and capital programmes are only a matter of time. The agency has already cut its funding for streets, cycling and public spaces in London’s boroughs, and suspended its roads renewal programme and underground capacity upgrades. TfL’s reliance on ticket sales to fund the capital’s transport system makes it very vulnerable to unexpected changes in demand. To ensure London continues to have a world-class transport system, both Khan and TfL must urgently find new sources of funding.



Nicole Badstuber is Researcher in Urban Transport Governance at the Centre for Transport Studies, UCLThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

2 billion trips taken on Opal cards since 2012

The NSW government has praised the success of the Opal card, after it was announced approximately 2 billion trips have been made by public transport users since the electronic ticketing system was introduced in December 2012.

The Opal card system began as a trial on a single ferry route at Neutral Bay during that month over 5 years ago and, subsequently, gradually expanded, across the public transport network, completely replacing paper tickets in August 2016.

“There are now more than 3.7 million Opal cards being used to complete more than 56 million trips a month and an average of 13 million trips a week,” the NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said from Wynyard Station on Tuesday.

“Now, in 2018, Opal geographically is the world’s largest electronic ticketing system, covering 40,000 square kilometres, 310 train stations, 44 wharves, 23 light rail stops and 39,599 bus stops.”

The government spruiked the benefits of the transfer discount, the weekly travel “reward” and other “incentives” that have been introduced with the Opal system.

$160 million has reportedly been returned to passengers via the transfer discount – in which adult Opal card users receive a $2 discount for every transfer between transport modes in the process of a single journey – while pensioners using Opal Gold are, collectively, estimated to save $33 million annually.

According to state transport minister, these savings, and the maintenance of Opal pricing at the rate of inflation, shows that the Opal system is achieving what it was designed to do: put the commuter first.

“Since Opal’s introduction in 2012, average Opal fares have not risen above CPI [consumer price index]. While we’ve made plenty of improvements to public transport and are investing record amounts in transport infrastructure, we also focused on keeping fares affordable,” Constance said.

The government’s reluctance to raise the price of transport fares goes against the advice of the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, which suggested in 2016 that they be increased by an average of 4.2% annually over three years.

However, according to the Labor opposition, the government’s narrative neglected to mention the rise in average Opal fares by 10% since the phasing out of paper tickets from 2016.

“[Constance] needs to be honest in what he does in future with Opal fares. People should have certainty about what they can expect,” Labor’s transport spokeswoman Jodi McKay was reported as saying by Fairfax.

Constance indicated that the electronic system had allowed Transport for NSW to accrue valuable trip information and data that allowed for improved planning for transport systems.

“Since 2011 we have introduced almost 30,000 additional weekly public transport services and we have been able to design these services to suit our customers travel patterns,” he said.


Melbourne Airport is going to be as busy as Heathrow, so why the argument about one train line?

COMMENT: Good public access for Melbourne Airport and others like it depends on not fixating on one solution, like a single rail line, but instead developing multiple options integrated with the city’s needs, Ian Woodcock writes.

Public discussion of rail links to airports has been narrowly focused on the idea of a single line and where to run it. In Melbourne, the politics of this debate has so far prevented a railway from being built, because it is not possible for one line to meet all of the landside access needs of the airport.
The issue of rail access for a new western Sydney airport has also not been resolved.

If we want anything to happen at all, we must move beyond barracking for one or other route. We have to recognise the need for multiple lines to serve everyone’s needs.

If we look further afield, of the world’s top 20 airports, 16 have rail access, 14 have integrated metros (i.e. part of the commuter rail network) and four have dedicated express lines as well as integrated metro lines (London Heathrow, Tokyo Haneda, Shanghai Pudong and Bangkok Suvarnabhumi).

In terms of passenger demand, Shanghai Pudong and Bangkok Suvarnabhumi were comparable in 2012 with where Melbourne will be in 2019. London and Bangkok have populations of around 8 million, have other airports and have much greater numbers of passengers transferring within them than Melbourne Airport, but the most salient comparison is the means of landslide access.

We’ll look more closely at Heathrow, one of the more comparable airports to Melbourne, later in this article.

The political divide on a rail link

The history of planning for a Melbourne Airport rail link has been dogged by party-political differences focused on the idea of a single railway and the question of its route out to Tullamarine. Traditionally, the Coalition parties have favoured the express proposals, while the Labor Party has preferred alignments that benefit local commuters.

This difference and the impossibility of resolving it with a single line would be one of the reasons we have so far not gone to the bother of actually building anything. It has also distracted attention from more incremental ways to improve landside access to the airport beyond the SkyBus. Its market is similar to the main targets of the express route proponents.

The most recent express proposal is the AirTrain by the highly respected Rail Futures Institute (RFI). It’s part of a bold plan to separate Victorian regional services from the metropolitan commuter network. This would eventually provide statewide fast rail services, including a 15-minute ride between the airport and Southern Cross Station in the city centre.

The benefits of and urgent need for RFI’s AirTrain proposal are clear. But it still won’t solve all of Melbourne Airport’s landside access demands, nor will it have the city-shaping potential in the northwest region between Tullamarine and the CBD that’s driving the ideas for an airport metro service.

Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull’s embrace of these ideas is a welcome change from his side of politics, as is Premier Daniel Andrews’ apparent support for RFI’s proposal. These are amusing reversals of political positions on airport access, but the community should not be swayed by the potential for wedging.

We can learn from Heathrow

To understand our predicament of airport access, comparisons with London’s Heathrow are useful. Many Australians know this airport and its landside access demands are far more similar to those of Melbourne Airport than may be imagined.

The Piccadilly Tube line was extended to Heathrow in 1977. That was a decade before it was serving over 30 million passengers comparable to what Melbourne airport was serving in 2013.

In 1998, Heathrow added a 15-minute express rail line to Paddington Station, when its landside access needs were about 40 million. That’s the demand Melbourne Airport is projected to hit in 2019. When London’s Elizabeth line (formerly CrossRail) opens next year, it will connect Heathrow to a major east-west line similar to the Melbourne Metro.

In 2028, Melbourne Airport is projected to hit the same level of landside access demand as Heathrow experienced in 2017. Currently, 40% of passengers using Heathrow do so via public transport – 27% via rail, 13% via bus or coach. And 35% of airport staff use public transport, and this is rising.

Heathrow has 13 public bus lines, 27 coach services and three railway services – the stopping-all-stations commuter service on the Piccadilly line and two levels of express service at premium ticket prices on regional railways (which will be subsumed by CrossRail).

By comparison, even though it is one of the world’s busiest, Melbourne Airport has a mere four public buses, some regional coaches and private express bus services. As a result, 86% of access is by car, including 17% by taxi or limo. SkyBus would take the lion’s share of the 14% bus/coach access.

What do these comparisons tell us?

These comparisons show how much more can be done to improve public transport access to Melbourne Airport, in the short, medium and long term. Melbourne Airport needs express as well as commuter rail access, but it needs more than this.

A wider spread of frequent public buses would be easy to implement. Extending the 59 tram service by 7km from Airport West would also be relatively quick and easy. Light rail lines to the airport from La Trobe University and Deer Park would provide much-needed connections to the main commuter rail system in parts of the metropolitan area where public transport is far worse than average.

A genuine commuter metro to the airport would not try to be an express. It would have stations that connect the major and emerging employment centres, such as Airport West, Essendon Fields, Niddrie, Highpoint, Footscray Hospital and Victoria University, and heavy rail stations at Arden and North Melbourne, before connecting with Southern Cross and then Bourke Street, Parliament Station and on to those eastern suburbs where metro services have long been planned.

Such a line would help with the redevelopment of Commonwealth land in Maribyrnong. In fact, without it, redevelopment would not be viable.

The politics of airport access need to be shifted away from focusing on whether one rail route is better than another to the need for a comprehensive transport plan integrated with land use that shows how we can shape our city and our state for a better future.


Ian Woodcock is Lecturer, School of Global, Urban & Social Studies, RMIT University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.