Premier Denis Napthine has moved to bolster the Coalition’s public transport credentials before the November 29 election, with a promise to build a long-awaited rail link to Melbourne Airport.
Addressing a gathering of Liberal Party faithful, Dr Napthine confirmed the May 6 state budget would include plans for a new electrified rail service running along dedicated tracks from Melbourne Airport to Albion, where it would join an existing rail corridor running to Southern Cross Station.
Under the plan, the service would leave Southern Cross Station every 10 minutes during peak periods, with the journey expected to take about 25 minutes.
”This project has been on the books for over 40 years and a Napthine Coalition government will outline our plans to build this rail link in the upcoming state budget,” Dr Napthine told the Liberal Party state council.
But Dr Napthine later declined to say when the link would be built, how much it would cost, how it would be funded and what the likely ticket prices would be.
”The budget will outline the process for construction of this very, very significant project, but we are making it very clear that the Coalition government will build an airport rail link,” Dr Napthine said.
The Age reported in February that the much-discussed idea – which was flagged by the then Baillieu opposition before the last election along with plans for rail lines to Doncaster, Rowville and Avalon – will be delivered as part of a ”realigned” Metro rail project, following internal research showing the idea remains highly popular.
The route was identified last year in a Public Transport Victoria study, which indicated the link would be contingent on building the Metro rail project, which is designed to add capacity to the network. That means the rail link is unlikely to be finished until at least the next term of government in the early 2020s.
The government’s latest plan will rely on a combination of at-grade and viaduct rail lines that would run from Albion, through the Jacana freight corridor and airport land, before terminating at a new elevated station at Melbourne Airport. A new rail flyover would be built at Albion to allow unfettered access to the existing rail network.
With much of the corridor not electrified, the airport had previously expressed concern about the possibility of diesel trains being used to save money. But Dr Napthine confirmed the new line would rely on electrified trains.
Public Transport Victoria’s study found the benefits of building a direct link to the airport ”are currently outweighed by the high costs”. But it said at some point an express route from the CBD would become more important, with the number of passengers using the airport expected to double to 60 million a year, comparable with Heathrow Airport now.
Deputy Opposition Leader James Merlino said the link would do nothing to fix congestion and train delays. ”Denis Napthine isn’t fixing the train you take every day, he’s talking about a train you might use once a year,” he said.
The plan will involve extensive negotiations with the airport, with compensation for the use of airport land yet to be discussed.
Melbourne Airport spokeswoman Carly Dixon said the plan would ”provide Victorians … with reliable rail transport to the airport”.