Federal Government wants to tip $5 billion into a Melbourne Airport Rail Link

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Federal Government wants to tip $5 billion into a Melbourne Airport Rail Link
Federal Government wants to tip $5 billion into a Melbourne Airport Rail Link

The Prime Minister this morning, at a press conference on the departures level at Melbourne Airport, announced the Federal Government will allocate $5 billion in this year's budget to kick start the construction of a Melbourne Airport Rail Link (MARL).

In last year's budget $30 million was allocated from Federal Coffers - and matched by Spring Street to the tune of $20 million - to pay for a study which would figure out a way to accelerate the rollout of the MARL.

That study is still underway and at a press conference, the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Federal Treasurer and Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, stood next to a map of Melbourne which depicted 4 possible routes the rail line might take.

Those routes were first foreshadowed under the Napthine Government in their MARL study - see a summary of that study here.

The State Government was apparently made aware of this Federal Government commitment via a letter sent to the Premier on Wednesday night, after the Federal Government dropped the story in the lap of some of the Herald Sun's press gallery journalists.

When the Prime Minister was pressed on this at the media conference, he responded with "oh well look its very important that Melburnians are enthused and engaged, we want everyone in Melbourne to have their say in this, we want this to be a project that enlivens and excites the whole city, the whole state".

The Federal Treasurer, Scott Morrison said that "this nationally important project for Tulla-rail will be the single largest infrastructure commitment in this year's budget and it'll be there for Victoria and the people for Melbourne and as the deputy prime minister I'm sure will say, well beyond the Melbourne [airport] precinct here".

The Planning work is still underway and despite standing next to a map which was devised five years earlier, no other information was divulged at the press conference - nothing on whether the study is taking into account the changes that are occurring to the Melbourne rail network, now that the city is in high growth mode.

Originally, the Napthine Government saw the Melbourne Airport Rail Link as an extension of the new Pakenham/Cranbourne to Sunbury/Melton metro line - there would be a Melbourne Airport and Rowville branch built in phase 3 according to the older network development plans.

On Tuesday the State Government announced what would have been a heavy rail line to Rowville is now a light rail line via Monash University, Chadstone to Caulfield.  

The Rail Futures Institute has been one external to government organisation that has long held a vision for the Melbourne Airport Rail Link that goes well beyond servicing just Melbourne and its airport, but includes a second phase that would pave the way for regional trains heading to Bendigo, Echuca and Swan Hill as well as Seymour and Shepparton to be completely separated from the metro network as well.

In a November 2017 speech to the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Geelong, the Premier hinted at the MARL would resemble something like the Rail Futures Institute vision with a focus on connecting the state, not just Melburnians to the airport.

"It can't just be an expensive funnel for tourists and businesspeople between the CBD and airport.  Instead, it can transform the way people live, work and travel across Victoria. In our view, the airport rail link has the potential to unlock western and northern Victoria."

The Rail Futures Institute's vision would see three tunnels - one from Southern Cross to Tottenham, another at Sunshine, and the last tunnel at Melbourne airport, where a second phase would then connect the airport to the Bendigo line at Clarkefield and the Seymour-Shepparton line at Wallan.  The Sunshine and Footscray tunneling segments would likely be approximately 10-11km in length with only one station at Sunshine.

The Federal Government, it has been reported, is more keen on a direct line from Melbourne via Victoria University in Footscray, Highpoint, the land it owns in Maribyrnong on the old arms manufacturing site and at Milleara and Buckley Street bordering Avondale Heights and Keilor East.  This proposal would require upwards of 13km of tunnels and 4 underground stations.

At Melbourne Airport, under a Rail Futures Vision scenario, the station would be underground thus requiring tunnels that could be built over two phases with an underground station.  If the Federal Government's favoured direct route via the Maribyrnong defence site is chosen and would only operate as a City-Airport line with no other regional connections, it's conceivable a cheaper elevated terminus station could be built at the airport.

The Federal Treasurer said the study will be complete by September/October.

Lead image credit: wikipedia.

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