To use railway signaling jargon, unbeknown to the Victorian public we seem to be have been passing Red over Green signals when it comes to Melbourne Airport Rail Link planning and on Sunday we passed a Red over Yellow in anticipation of stopping at Parliament station in early May, whereafter according to the Premier, the public should expect to see a series of Green over Reds ahead*.
Election year pre-budget promise filters to maximum, set phasers to knock-the-gunzel-in-all-of-us-down-with-a-feather.
The set of parameters that make up the Tullamarine Airport rail link project are slowly but surely now becoming less fluid with a fairly well defined direction set in motion. On the weekend at the Liberal Party Victorian State Council the Premier announced the coalition would fund a Melbourne Airport Rail Link with further details to be provided in the State budget to be handed down by the Treasurer Michael O'Brien in early May.
The Premier's media release states:
"This project will see a new service running along dedicated tracks from Melbourne Airport to Albion where it will join the existing rail network and run through to Southern Cross Station.
"This will be an electrified service that utilises the Albion East route which has previously been identified as the preferred option for an airport rail link.
"This service will depart from Southern Cross Station every 10 minutes during peak hours with the total journey to the airport expected to take approximately 25 minutes.
"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.
Soon after Dr Napthine got the keys to 1 Treasury Place, Public Transport Victoria released its long-term heavy rail network plan which appeared to relegate an airport rail link to stage 3 and a subsequent timeframe for completion in 15 years.
Given the Premier's announcement and an upcoming election it appears Coalition campaign HQ may have just scuppered that plan and brought forward the detailed planning for the link irrespective of the Melbourne Metro tunnel dependency. And that's all we should expect in the budget announcement, a sum - at a guess - anywhere in the region of $10 to $30 million for the detailed planning with an aspirational kick off date sometime in the next election cycle.
Key points and assumptions to draw from the Premier's announcement and the Treasurer's interview on 774:
A stock standard limited express service operated by Metro utilising the new capacity in the Sunbury line once the Regional Rail Link is opened.
The "new" infrastructure will be the works required to expand the Albion corridor and connect it with the airport at the Northern end and a new flyover to connect the new track to the Sunbury line.
In previous Melbourne Airport masterplans, a future rail link has generally appeared with an underground station in the terminal precinct - the announcement confirms (quite rightly) the airport station will be elevated.
The current Ground Transportation Plan in the Melbourne Airport Masterplan 2013 (page 132) furthermore mentions the general rail alignment will arrive at the airport via the median of the mooted Airport Drive extension.
The stopping pattern - Southern Cross - [North Melbourne?] - Footscray - Sunshine - Airport - appears, at least on the surface of it, to be able to work with current services to Watergardens and Sunbury. At present there are only 9 metro trains an hour in peaks which run a mixture of stopping patterns.
Forever curious, here's a list of questions and pondering points:
Putting aside the obvious scalability and capacity benefits afforded to a heavy rail line and assuming reliability is going to be the primary advantage over the Skybus (i.e. that train services will be actually take the time advertised (25 minutes) as opposed to the traffic risk Skybus is subjected to on the Tullamarine Freeway),
Will commuters not destined for the airport be able to use the services between Southern Cross, Footscray and Sunshine stations? Will the airport services have a dedicated more passenger-with-luggage friendly internal configuration as opposed to the current commuter-focused train configurations? Will fares be lower than current Skybus services?
What of the airport workers and passengers who live directly to the east of Tullamarine? Will there be any subsequent projects to improve equitable ground transportation access for Melbourne's North?
We'd be interested to hear of more questions readers may have - post them in the comments section below.
Further reading from last year, Melbourne, a city of two tales - Skybus versus the Airport Train.
* Refer to VicSig.net's excellent explanation of what line-side signals mean:
Lead image credit: flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0