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Sydney has an airport rail line. So does Brisbane. Perth is building one. Should Melbourne? Jason Dowling peers down the track at what Victoria's major parties are really proposing.
Everywhere I go it seems easier to access the city from the airport. But how common really is airport rail around the world?
Many of the world's famous cities that Australians love to visit invested in airport rail connections long ago. London's Heathrow, New York's JFK and Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris have airport rail links. There are some exceptions, think mega-car-city Los Angeles and its busy LAX.
What about in cities that are similar in geography and population to Melbourne?
Melbourne often competes with Vienna and Vancouver for the most liveable city title – they both have airport rail links. Vienna's City Airport Train takes 16 minutes from city to airport, Vancouver's airport rail link to the city takes 26 minutes. Across the ditch, Auckland Airport does not have a rail link.
Have they been a success – economically and in attracting passengers?
Both airport rail links in Sydney and Brisbane initially struggled to attract commuters and turn a profit. Early patronage was well below expectation. In Sydney prices were made more attractive with government assistance and demand has grown. Patronage on Brisbane's Airtrain has also grown with millions of commuters now using the airport rail links annually in both cites. Both rail links now turn modest profits.
What work has been done on developing a rail passage to Tullamarine. How would it work? How long would it take?
Melburnians talk about a rail link to the airport like they do the weather. It has been a constant topic of conversation for decades. The Napthine government has settled on an Albion East alignment that follows the Sunbury line out of the city and takes the Albion-Jacana freight line path. Closer to the airport the rail line will go up the centre of the new Airport Drive freeway extension. The airport is considering three locations for the new train station and hopes to have a final design in 18 months. An underground station has been ruled out because of cost. The airport said there was no "secret Harry Potter platform" already built at the airport, which has been a long-held Melbourne myth.
The airport said a future train terminal would not be in current long-term car park areas.
The journey time to the airport is forecast to be an ambitious 25 minutes.
What's the government's position?
The Coalition said the $8.5 billion to $11 billion Melbourne Rail Link, which includes the airport rail link, would "transform the rail network, reduce delays, improve reliability and boost capacity by up to 30 per cent".
It said "early works" were expected in 2016, with construction from 2017 and the full project, including Melbourne Airport Rail Link, to be complete in 2026. The government could not say which section of the Melbourne Rail Link would be built first, the link to the airport or the rail tunnel from Southern Cross to Fishermans Bend and South Yarra. It said exact timing for the opening of both sections of the project would be determined once further design and construction planning had occurred. The budget papers said the project will be completed "from 2026" and contain only 2 per cent of funding in the next three years.
Labor said while an airport rail link is a worthy project, it was focused on "the services that people use every single day". It is prioritising building the Melbourne Metro project to increase capacity in the city loop and its plan to remove 50 level crossings.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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