Rail body advocates for separate airport line between Sunshine and CBD

Rail industry advocacy body, Rail Futures, has criticised the Victorian government’s plan to run the Melbourne Airport Rail Link to the city via Melbourne Metro.

The body called upon the Victorian government to build additional tracks between the CBD and Sunshine, where the airport link will join the existing Melbourne rail network. This would benefit both regional Victoria services and trains to Melbourne’s west.

Rail Futures estimates that soon after the new lines are open in 2025, the new Melbourne Metro (MM) train lines will reach capacity, potentially as early as 2030.

“Notwithstanding this, the State Government appears intent on allocating 25 per cent of MM track capacity between the CBD and Sunshine to Melbourne Airport trains,” said Rail Futures president John Hearsch.

To accommodate demand from trains from the airport, western Melbourne and regional Victoria, the number of trains running at peak times on the Sunbury/Watergardens, Melton, and Ballarat lines.

“Once added to the metropolitan network, the Airport line will remain part of it for a very long time. This is bad news for these communities, long denied adequate train services but promised major service improvements once MM is completed.”

Rail Futures is advocating for a separate rail line, similar to the one proposed by IFM Investors, as part of the AirRail consortium.

“The alternative, long promoted by Rail Futures, is an additional express track pair between Southern Cross and Sunshine, supplementing MM and the Regional Rail Link track pair opened in 2015, already operating at near its designed capacity,” said Hearsch.

Population growth in western Melbourne and Geelong is already placing strain on trains travelling from Geelong to Melbourne via Tarneit and Wyndham Vale. Patronage on the line has grown by 131 per cent since 2015.

“Our plan transfers Geelong trains to the new fast tracks between Southern Cross and Sunshine and also provides additional express tracks between Sunshine and Wyndham Vale,” said Hearsch.

“These changes will enable Wyndham Vale to have a full metro-style service and for Geelong to have its long promised fast trains. Without them, Wyndham residents will have a much less frequent service and Geelong commuters will continue to endure slow journeys and chronic overcrowding, as no more trains could be accommodated between the City and Sunshine.”

Melbourne Airport Rail Link under contention

The Victorian treasurer has indicated the government may not accept a proposal for the Melbourne Airport Rail Link which would see the line privately owned and operated, despite pressure from the federal government.

Treasurer Tim Pallas, at a business event late last week, discussed a cheaper, above-ground route in complete contrast to the high-speed multibillion-dollar airport rail tunnel federal government would like built.

Despite an initial $5 billion commitment from the Victorian government, Pallas said the government might delay building the twin rail tunnels between the CBD and Sunshine, due to potentially rising project costs.

The Victorian government says it has not ruled out the airport tunnel option, according to The Age.

Private consortium AirRail recently offered $5 billion towards the airport tunnel project in return for owning and operating it.

The federal government, in turn, says that the 7-kilometre tunnels are crucial for the Geelong fast rail project, towards which it has committed $2 billion.

Federal Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure, Alan Tudge, said the federal government wanted a high-speed airport rail service, and was working  with the state government towards this, according to The Age.

“We want to see the Melbourne Airport Rail Link built as soon as possible.”

AirRail’s bid for the Melbourne airport tunnel

The Victorian government is under pressure from the Commonwealth to accept a proposal for the Melbourne Airport Rail Link which would see the line privately owned and operated, according to a report.

The MARL, with an estimated price tag of $15 billion, has so far had matching $5 billion commitments from both federal and state governments. A plan from private consortium AirRail would offer the remaining $5 billion needed, but as part of the offer the consortium would own and operate the tunnel.

The Age is reporting this week the federal government is pressuring Victoria to go ahead with the deal, but that Victorian officials are averse to the prospect of a privately owned and operated tunnel being added to the city’s Metro Trains and the region’s V/Line network.

The airport link would connect with the planned Geelong fast rail via a new rail tunnel to Sunshine, and federal urban infrastructure and cities minister Alan Tudge says the MARL is important for the federal government’s vision of the Geelong project.

AirRail Melbourne would see some of Victoria’s transport providers partner with IFM Investors, a global fund manager with $112 billion.

The Victorian government is reportedly considering a cheaper, above ground alternative which would consist of building new tracks as well as utilising the existing railway line from the western suburban junction to the CBD.