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SYDNEY has had one for more than 18 years, Brisbane for nearly as long and now even Perth is getting on board.
So why hasn’t Melbourne been able to get an airport rail line off the ground?
The idea was first raised in 1958, 12 years before Tullamarine Airport opened.
Proposed Train line from the Tullamarine Airport to the Melbourne CBD via Sunshine. Picture: SuppliedFast forward 60 years and we’re still in the planning stages.
Federal and Victoria governments have each put $5 billion on the table, with the latter pushing for a line through Sunshine even though the business case is not finished.
WHEN WILL MELBOURNE AIRPORT RAIL BE BUILT?Construction is slated for 2022 but after decades of announcements and studies coming to naught, is it wise to bank on an airport rail really happening this time?
Historically, political enthusiasm for the project has gained momentum only to flatline.
But Monash University transport engineering Professor Graham Currie says that’s changing, amid backing from state and federal governments and opposition parties as well as a growing recognition the status quo won’t cut it anymore.
University of Melbourne senior lecturer in transport planning, John Stone, agrees the project is inevitable but is less certain about the details.
“We don’t really have a lot of detail in the public domain how an airport rail link via Sunshine would affect passenger numbers,” he said.
“Whether that would be a good enough service to get people out of their cars depends on a whole lot of things that we don’t know yet about travel times.
“Where you’ll pick up the service in the city and how it’ll link in with the suburban rail system and how you’ll get your bags to the airport and so on.”
Opening of Tullamarine Airport in 1970. Picture: Herald SunA brief history of Melbourne Airport rail attempts
* 1958 — City Development Association suggests airport rail
* 1965 — First legislative step towards rail line with Glenroy Tullamarine Construction Bill
* 1971 — Study into French-designed proposal for $27.5 million monorail line
* 1991 — Rapid transit link flagged under Kirner government
* 1993 — Parliamentary committee recommends Tullamarine rapid transit link
* 1998 — Broadmeadows corridor put forward as preferred option
* 1999 — Labor takes rail link to election, commits to private-public partnership
* 2000 — $20 million allocated to Airport Transit Link Project, public consultation launched
* 2001 — Advisory panel looks at high-speed rail between CBD, airport, backs Albion corridor
* 2002 — Bracks government rejects airport rail over commercial viability concerns, in
September 11, Ansett Airlines collapse aftermath
* 2008 — Proposal gains renewed momentum with release of Melbourne Airport master plan
* 2009 — Transport Minister Tim Pallas says airport rail not a priority, SkyBus sufficient
* 2010 — Liberal leader Ted Baillieu flags rail link to Avalon Airport
* 2011 — Baillieu government allocates $5.6m to Melbourne Airport Rail Link study
* 2013 — Public Transport Victoria recommends Sunshine route
* 2016 — Premier Daniel Andrews says airport rail not top priority
* 2017 — Turnbull government allocates $30m, Victoria $10m for rail link planning
* 2018 — Commonwealth commits $5bn to project, Victoria agrees to match
WHAT’S BEEN HOLDING IT BACK?One of the key problems with building a rail line to Tullamarine has been the airport’s location, 22km northwest of the CBD and sandwiched between the Sunbury and Craigieburn lines.
This has made any project more expensive and harder to link to existing routes, according to Prof Currie.
Australia’s long-held preference for road transport has provided a further disincentive.
“We’ve always said, really, let’s go by car,’ Dr Stone said.
“And it’s suited the airport to do that, particularly once they were privatised because they could make a huge amount of money.”
Adding to reservations were concerns in the early 2000s not enough people would catch a train to the airport, particularly after September 11 and the collapse of Ansett Airlines.
Construction on Melbourne’s airport rail line is slated to begin in the early 2020s. Picture: Tony Gough“Ansett had gone, demand for the airport was down and future aviation looked bleak as a result of 9/11,” Prof Currie said.
But while the picture is very different in 2018, more recent plans for the project have been hampered by contention about what kind of line to build.
Dr Stone said two competing ideas have been a more direct CBD to Tullamarine route catering for tourists and business people, versus a route linked into the suburban rail system.
“Every time we tried to do the fast trip for the business people, we found that it’s actually quite a long way.
“Even the trip via Sunshine they’re proposing now, if you go all the way, it’s quite complicated to get extra track for that in the inner city.
“Trying to get a link, what they call a pole-to-pole model, the frictionless trip from one end to the other is quite complicated to do.
“People have said ‘let’s try it’ and then when they’ve actually tried to work out how to get something that isn’t just part of the suburban system, they’ve run into problems.”
IT’S NOW INEVITABLEBut experts agree Victoria no longer has a choice whether to go ahead with the train.
“Melbourne is growing, air travel access to Melbourne is going up a lot, Melbourne Airport’s at capacity, freeway access which is the only real access way to the airport now is at (a) peak,” Prof Currie said.
“At some point ... the airport will stop functioning effectively.”
After saying in 2016 it wasn’t a top priority, Premier Daniel Andrews has flagged linking the slated airport rail project with a proposed 90km rail loop around suburban Melbourne, which wouldn’t be completed until the middle of the century.
The state’s opposition backs an airport train, as does Canberra, the airport itself and SkyBus, which operates between Southern Cross Station and Tullamarine.
“There’s a change in the way the politicians are seeing rail as something that actually does win votes, rather than it being something you said you were going to do while you got on with building the next part of the freeway system,” Dr Stone said.
“The idea that you’d get a train that leaves Sunshine and gets to the airport, that’s the minimum I think will happen”.
This article first appeared on www.heraldsun.com.au
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