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A multibillion-dollar airport rail plan being considered by the state and federal governments was rejected four years ago by Victorian bureaucrats because it would starve booming suburbs in Melbourne’s west of desperately needed train services.
Premier Daniel Andrews and Prime Minister Scott Morrison are believed to be moving ahead with plans to announce the $8-$13 billion project, with sources saying a dedicated airport tunnel from the city to Sunshine is likely to be ditched.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Premier Daniel Andrews have vowed to co-operate on Melbourne's airport rail project.CREDIT:AAP
Instead, trains would be wedged on to congested tracks between the city and Sunshine and enter the CBD via the new $11 billion Metro Tunnel. A new track between Tullamarine and Sunshine would be built.
This is despite a state government promise to build "additional tracks" between the city and Sunshine, most probably through a tunnel – an upgrade that rail experts say is necessary for an efficient airport train service and fast trains to Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo.
Lobby groups in Melbourne’s west are now warning this would be disastrous for commuters in the city’s fastest-growing region, who are already being squeezed on to overcrowded and infrequent V/Line services.
They say airport trains would clog any spare capacity in the Metro Tunnel for extra Sunbury and Melton trains, while Wyndham Vale services would also suffer.
The state and federal governments have each pledged $5 billion for the airport rail project, which is set to open in 2027. A private consortium has offered to chip in $5 billion to build a 7-kilometre tunnel from Southern Cross to West Footscray.
In a bid to reduce project costs and get an airport rail link built fast, the federal and state governments appear to be reviving an old plan to run airport trains through the Metro Tunnel – an option that was ditched by state rail planners in 2016.
The 2016 Metro Tunnel business case rejected a 2012 Public Transport Victoria plan to run six airport trains an hour through the Metro Tunnel.
This decision was made to create space for an extra three Melton services and two Sunbury services an hour through the tunnel, in the wake of runaway growth in Melbourne's west and north-west.
All up, Melton would get nine services an hour and Sunbury would have 14. The Metro Tunnel would have a maximum capacity of 23 trains an hour, leaving no room for airport trains.
Future links to Melbourne Airport and Rowville could be possible as part of the Metro Tunnel, the business case found, but these options would require “a complete new network (likely including long tunnels back to central Melbourne) rather than making use of existing tracks".
The current proposal to run airport trains along existing tracks and via the new Metro Tunnel would reduce the number of Melton or Sunbury trains, with Melton believed to be more likely.
The Rail Futures Institute estimates that by the time the Metro Tunnel opens in 2025, Melton would probably end up with just three trains an hour – or one every 20 minutes – which is no different from the current situation. This could be increased down the track to six services an hour, once the tunnel is at full capacity.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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