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THERE is something perverse about giving priority to a rail link to Avalon Airport over Melbourne Airport. One offers a handful of domestic flights a day, carrying 1.5 million passengers a year.
The other is an international gateway, with 200,000 flights a year carrying a fast-growing total of 28 million passengers. Avalon is 56 kilometres from central Melbourne but readily accessible by road. Melbourne airport is closer but the 22-kilometre trip - by car, bus or taxi - is an unpredictable nightmare. Yet the state government is moving first on Avalon. ''There are challenges around an airport link for Melbourne,'' said Aviation Minister Gordon Rich-Phillips.
The government must remember that Labor's failure to tackle tough challenges prompted Victorians to turn to Ted Baillieu's Coalition. Government inaction is the reason that logistical difficulties cited by the government have become greater and more costly in the 41 years since the airport opened. A rail link was planned 48 years ago.
A week before the state election, Mr Baillieu promised to deliver one at last. ''John Brumby's broken promise to build an airport rail link has left Melbourne behind Sydney, Brisbane and many international cities. [Our] plan will put an end to the slow crawl along the freeway, expensive taxi fares and lugging heavy suitcases from Southern Cross train platforms to the [Sky]bus.''
Mr Baillieu surely knew the same plan was proposed by the Bolte, Hamer, Cain, Kirner, Kennett and Bracks governments; if it was cheap and easy, one of them would have done it. However, a rail link has never been more badly needed. The repeatedly widened Tullamarine Freeway isn't coping and cannot handle a projected doubling in airport passenger numbers by 2027-28 and growing air freight that amounts to a third of the Australian market. Travellers and the RACV certainly see the Melbourne link as a much higher priority.
The Baillieu government's allocation of $50 million to preliminary work on an Avalon rail line and $6.5 million to a feasibility study of the Melbourne link suggests a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the more urgent project. The Melbourne Airport project needs to be assessed in terms of the totality of impacts on travellers, business and the state economy.
The feasibility study must be made public to minimise the influence of vested interests. Labor's refusal to release the last study was unacceptable. It would be equally unacceptable for the Coalition to have made an easy promise in opposition with little intention of starting work on a Melbourne airport rail link in the foreseeable future.
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/editorial/state-shirks-airport-rail-challenge-20110815-1iuof.html
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