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As part of its transport policy for the 2 July Federal election, the Australian Greens are promising Victorians a “real commitment to Melbourne airport rail”; the party says it will provide $1 Billion in federal funding towards the cost of constructing a rail line from the CBD to the airport if it wins next month’s election.
According to this media release on the promise put out by Greens spokesperson for transport and infrastructure, Senator Janet Rice:
It is unacceptable and frankly embarrassing that in 2016 Melbourne doesn’t have a rail line to the airport… Airport Rail will offer travellers an easier, cleaner, more reliable option, without the risk of missing their flight because of chaos on the roads… Melbourne Airport Rail is part of the Greens commitment taking us towards a clean
Leaving aside the obvious question of whether or not the Greens would be in a position to deliver on it, this promise smacks loudly of good old fashioned politicking.
For one thing, the current Victorian Government isn’t interested in the project. The former Liberal-National Government led by Denis Napthine promised to build it, but current Premier Daniel Andrews made it clearsoon after winning the last election that he doesn’t see it as a priority compared to other projects.
No one for a moment says that an airport rail link is not a worthy project. But be very clear: the services that people use every single day are my priority.
The Greens’ promise is analogous to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s continuing commitment to build Melbourne’s East-West Link motorway. The federal government wants it but the state doesn’t; the Andrews’ Government spent a billion dollars to avoid it!
Another indication of blatant politicking is the absence of hard evidence to support the promise. The party doesn’t have an authoritative estimate of the expected cost of the rail line – in fact the cost isn’t even mentioned! It has no idea of the value of the likely benefits and whether or not they would come within cooee of the cost.
The lack of such basic information contradicts the Greens’ promise to subject all projects to benefit-cost analysis prior to making a decision on funding (see Is the Greens’ transport policy mostly vote-bait?).
Of course it’d be very nice to have a shiny new rail line to Melbourne Airport just like most other big cities around the world have, including Brisbane and Sydney. At the moment, though, it’s not a good idea.
There are much more pressing priorities in the transport portfolio for scarce public dollars e.g. Melbourne Metro, level crossing removals, railway signalling, outer suburban train extensions and bus services, tram priority works, and much more.
Contrary to Mr Andrew’s claim that it’s nevertheless a “worthy project”, it’s doubtful an airport rail line can be justified on economic, social and environmental grounds, at least not at this time.
It would likely cost Victorian and Australian taxpayers in the order of $2 – 3 Billion to build, but would replace the existing privately operated bus service, SkyBus, that costs the State budget nothing.
It’s true SkyBus isn’t as comfortable as a train would be, but it provides a 24-hour, 7 days a week express service from the airport to Southern Cross Station, most of the time at 10 minute frequencies.
This article first appeared on blogs.crikey.com.au
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