Election years are never complete without big infrastructure promises, and Victoria’s Denis Napthine government has opened the state’s auction for votes with a bid to build a sorely needed rail link from Melbourne to Tullamarine Airport.
The proposed link will bridge a major public transport gap between Melbourne’s city and suburbs and the relatively distant airport that is now only served by the increasingly congested Tullamarine Freeway.
The rail line will bring Melbourne into line with Sydney and Brisbane where air passengers can use dedicated rail lines to bypass freeway traffic and spare the expense of taxis.
Sydney has had a privately-run underground railway airport link operating since May 2000 that was completed just in time for the city’s Olympic games, although the line remains poorly patronised because of steep ticket prices that can make it cheaper to get a cab or hire car from the CBD if there are multiple passengers traveling.
Perth and Canberra are similarly exploring the addition of rail links to cut through congestion car drop-off and pick-up concourses to optimise capacity utilisation.
The fact that the Melbourne’s Tullamarine Freeway could become even more congested is an looming issue that the Napthine government is keen to fix to address in light of expectations that the 30 million passengers the airport now caters for every year will double by the mid-2030s – a strain that existing infrastructure will not be able to cope with.
When Melbourne’s airport rail line project is completed, it will provide a new electrified service that will run on dedicated tracks from Melbourne Airport to Albion where it will join the existing suburban rail network and then run through to the main hub of Southern Cross Station.
The frequency of the service has been slated for a train every 10 minutes from Southern Cross Station during peak hours, with the total journey to the airport expected to take approximately 25 minutes – a time saving of roughly a third to a half over existing travel times.
Although the Napthine government is yet to reveal official costings for the project, it has committed to outlining the details of the rail link in the forthcoming 2014-15 State Budget on 6th May.
Victorian Premier Denis Napthine made the announcement in a speech to the Liberal Party State Council, saying the “landmark project” was part of the Coalition government’s “record breaking” infrastructure agenda.
Dr Napthine said the government is undertaking the detailed design, planning and consultation work on this “important project”.
He said this will be a “critical component” in the government’s broader transport plan that will deliver more services to carry “more people, more often” across metropolitan and regional networks.
“The new link will consist of a combination of at-grade and viaduct rail lines that will run from Albion, through the Jacana freight corridor and airport land terminating at a new elevated station at Melbourne Airport. A new rail flyover will be constructed at Albion to ensure smooth access to the existing rail network,” Dr Napthine said.
The rail industry is cheering on the project as a way of cutting Melbourne’s increasing congestion issues and “drastically” improving the traffic flow to and from the CBD.
Australasian Railway Association (ARA) chief executive Bryan Nye said the Victorian government’s investment in public transport was a “good use” of public money.
“It is reassuring to see the Napthine government take ownership of its public transport projects, in particular rail, even in these tough economic times,” Mr Nye said.
He said without substantial investment in Australia’s rail networks that provide links to airports, Melbourne’s highways will continue to be “clogged” with trucks and its cities will be heading further towards gridlock, frustration and “excessive urban sprawl”.
“Whilst rail is undoubtedly the most efficient transporter of both people and goods over long distances,” he said, “increasingly it is becoming more competitive with road transport over shorter distances.”
As a solution, Mr Nye endorses further integration with ports, airports and intermodal terminals, which he said “can only have positive outcomes”.
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