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With reports swirling about the Victorian government could bin an airport rail tunnel plan critical for fast rail for Ballarat, backers of the project have united in one voice over the vital need for the government to stay the course.
The latest media reports have the Morrison government warming to the idea of the State Government's cheaper surface option, despite pre-election policy by Premier Daniel Andrews that he would pursue the fastest option for the airport and the one that benefited the regions most.
Last week The Age reported on an alternative proposal where airport trains would run along a new surface-level branch line between Tullamarine Airport and Sunshine, before moving onto existing tracks into the city, via the new Metro Tunnel.
Abandoning the dedicated tunnel from Southern Cross to Sunshine has led Rail Futures Institute president John Hearsch to call the plan "extremely short-sighted" and "a third-rate solution for the airport line".
In a media release, Mr Hearsch did not mince words, adding while the alternative proposal would be cheaper for the government, it would not benefit commuters in regional Victoria or metro commuters looking to get to the airport.
"If adopted, the proposal to scrap the planned new Airport Rail Link tunnel... would extend airport journey times to more than 30 minutes and make it less attractive than the current Skybus option," the release said.
A map of the proposed changes with a airport rail tunnel.
"It will defer for years the promise of fast trains to Geelong and Ballarat.
"New underground tracks starting from Southern Cross are the only practical solution to avoid massive property acquisition and unlock additional train capacity between Southern Cross and Sunshine.
"These tracks will not only carry airport trains but also have ample capacity to provide the first section of infrastructure needed for fast trains to Geelong and in future, Ballarat."
These sentiments were echoed by Committee for Ballarat chief executive Michael Poulton, who believes the state government's alternative proposal would effectively eliminate all hopes of fast rail from Ballarat to Melbourne.
"Without a tunnel, Ballarat won't get a fast, reliable, frequent train service because every train will go slow through the most heavily congested corridor in Melbourne," he said.
Mr Poulton said the new proposal did nothing for regional rail services such as Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong, as V/Line trains would continue to get caught up with metropolitan services as they get close to the Melbourne CBD.
"There is no additional space for additional tracks between Sunshine and Southern Cross - that's why the tunnel is so important for regional rail," he said.
"Every train, whether it be from Ballarat, Bendigo, Shepparton or Geelong, goes slow through Sunshine to Southern Cross."
According to Mr Poulton, a dedicated tunnel for regional and airport rail would benefit commuters across the state.
This article first appeared on www.thecourier.com.au
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