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Daniel Andrews and Scott Morrison are about to wrap up an early Christmas present for the people of Victoria. It’s a train to Tullamarine — funded, planned and ready to be built.
Senior figures in the state and federal governments say an agreement between the leaders is imminent on the final design of the long-awaited airport rail link.
But while a bromance has blossomed between the Premier and the Prime Minister in the last six months, this decision has proven to be more difficult than just making a list and checking it twice.
The broad strokes of the project are clear. Both governments have put $5 billion on the table and want to see the rail link running west from the CBD to a new transport super-hub in Sunshine and then north to the airport.
How to make that a reality — which people are willing to pay to use — is the challenge.
It is clear the new line must be “conveniently linked with the suburban railway network” and provide “fast, cheap and convenient access to the city and suburbs”.
Those were the words of the state’s transport minister Edward Meagher in 1964, six years before the airport was opened and they still ring true today.
The complicating factor is that the airport rail link is not being built in isolation.
Instead, it is the key piece that will decide the fate of the rail network jigsaw through Melbourne’s booming western suburbs and out to Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo.
A bromance between Scott Morrison and Daniel Andrews has blossomed. Picture: Mark StewartFrom the federal government’s point of view, there is only one way to improve rail services to those areas.
“We think it is almost certain that we’ll need to have dedicated tunnel from basically the CBD to Sunshine, which then becomes a really important node for fast rail to be able to shoot from as well,” Federal Urban Infrastructure Minister Alan Tudge said last month.
The state government’s Western Rail Plan, released last year, indicated they were on the same page. It warned there was “limited available space” for extra services between Sunshine and the CBD and forecast “extra track capacity” would be needed.
In May this year, as Labor pumped $100 million into planning fast regional trains, it said that would “most likely” be achieved with a new airport rail tunnel.
But some in the state government appear to have cooled on the tunnel in recent months, with Victorian Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan not killing off suggestions that airport trains could run on existing suburban tracks to Sunshine.
Victorian Minister for Public Transport and infrastructure Jacinta Allan has not shut down suggestions that airport trains could run on existing tracks.There are plenty of reasons why that is a bad idea. If you’ve caught airport trains in big cities around the world, you will know the best services are quick, they run regularly, they don’t require you to change trains and the purpose-built carriages have plenty of room for your bags.
Andrews was alive to those issues in September, when he stood next to Morrison and promised to build a service that is “efficient, effective and represents value for money” because if it is “slow and congested and stopping at all stations, people won’t use it”.
But the tunnel will be expensive to build and with cost blowouts already hitting major projects, some state government figures are approaching future spending cautiously.
The Sunshine route’s $8-13 billion price-tag will be maxed out if it goes underground, and even that could be a conservative estimate because of soaring construction costs.
This article first appeared on www.heraldsun.com.au
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