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A NEW train tunnel from the CBD to Tullamarine is being considered as part of a long-awaited rail link to Melbourne Airport.
A state government study into the feasibility of an airport connection has examined about 80 route options designed to ease traffic congestion and cope with the airport's future growth.
One of the options is a direct tunnel from the CBD that would cut through the north-west suburbs. Another is a rail link between Albion North and the airport, connected to the city via the Sunbury train line.
Transport officials say both proposals are largely reliant on the Melbourne Metro rail project, a proposed tunnel between South Kensington and South Yarra that would involve building five underground stations: Arden, Parkville, CBD North, CBD South and Domain. The nine-kilometre tunnel would link the Sunbury rail line, in Melbourne's north-west, to the Dandenong rail corridor in the outer south-east, allowing an extra 24,000 passengers an hour to travel through the network.
But as The Sunday Age revealed last week, unless work begins on the project within two years, trains will become so overcrowded passengers increasingly will be left behind - sometimes for hours - during the morning peak.
Fresh department documents obtained under Freedom of Information have also revealed the project would provide an economic benefit of $856 million by 2046, largely by providing disadvantaged people - particularly those in Melbourne's west - greater access to employment and education in the city.
''As well as improving service coverage and quality for public transport users, this investment is likely to lead to a significant redistribution of future employment growth,'' says a report by SGS Economics and Planning, which forms part of the business case for the project.
A rail link to Melbourne Airport has been mooted by successive governments for years, but the cost and complexity of the project has prevented it from getting off the ground.
However, Public Transport Victoria chief executive Ian Dobbs said the Melbourne Metro - which is awaiting state and federal funds before works can begin - would accelerate the airport connection becoming a reality.
''Getting Melbourne Metro started means we can get on with focusing on projects like a rail link to Melbourne Airport and to Rowville,'' he said.
''With the continuing rise in passengers and workers travelling to and from Melbourne Airport, and now plans for a third runway, the delivery of Melbourne Metro will allow these other key rail projects to really take off.''
The state government provided $6.5 million for a feasibility study into the Melbourne Airport rail link, but Premier Ted Baillieu has made it clear that it is a long-term proposal that would not be developed before a rail connection was built for Avalon Airport.
However, Melbourne Airport chief executive Chris Woodruff has said Tullamarine should be the priority, given projections showed about 40 million people a year are expected to use the airport by the end of the decade.
The airport last month announced plans for a third runway to handle more aircraft movements and challenge Sydney to the title of Australia's gateway. The new runway would cost about $500 million and be located south of the existing east-west runway. It would be three kilometres long, 60 metres wide and take between two and four years to build.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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