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MELBOURNE has moved closer to building an airport-city rail link as the number of people using Tullamarine soars.
Premier John Brumby gave his strongest signal yesterday he would back the move if Melbourne airport patronage continued to soar.
"There is no doubt that if the airport grows and Melbourne grows in the longer term this issue will come back on the agenda," he said.
Airport chief executive Chris Woodruff said the surge in Tullamarine's air traffic meant a rail link would be needed sooner than originally thought.
Higher passenger traffic figures released yesterday fuelled fresh speculation on the recurring issue.
"In the future, we will have one," Mr Woodruff said. "The market needs to grow a little bit more, but I think it will be on the agenda in the next three or four or five years."
Earlier this year, Melbourne airport released its 2008 master plan, which also supported plans for a railway line with an underground station.
International and domestic passenger numbers at the airport swelled to 24.3 million during the 2007-08 financial year, an 8 per cent rise.
Passenger numbers were up an average 34,000 a week and international passenger numbers grew 5 per cent, hitting 4.7 million for the first time. Domestic traffic grew by 1.5 million, a 9 per cent increase.
Mr Woodruff said rising traffic would be met by the airport's $330 million expansion plans, which will double international capacity by 2011.
Skybus, which ferries hundreds of passengers to and from Tullamarine every day, said it didn't oppose a rail link, but doubted one was needed.
Skybus marketing manager Max Wood said the company hoped to increase services to almost 200 a day within weeks.
"We are not opposed to a rail network - if it happens, it happens - but it's our business plan to provide a world-class service and we are doing the best we can."
Public Transport Users Association president Daniel Bowen said there was a need for an airport rail link.
"The airport is a major traffic generator, not just for travellers but for the many workers who go to the airport daily and have little option but to drive," he said.
The Government has had plans for a rail link through either Broadmeadows or Albion since 2001.
There is nothing in its contract with CityLink operator Transurban to prevent a passenger line, but if it built a freight line, Transurban might be eligible for compensation.
- Nick Higginbottom and Holly Ife
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