The airport rail has been in the making for 60 years, make no mistake

The train to Melbourne Airport was planned by Sir Henry Bolte in 1963 even before the opening of the new Tullamarine Airport. A 1990 Melbourne Airport Strategy identified the need for a rail link from the CBD. In February 2000, the Bracks government launched studies of alternative routes to the airport, which resulted in the reservation of land in 2005 for a rail link from the airport via Albion. In April 2014, the Napthine Coalition government pledged to build the line if re-elected later that year, but lost the election to Labour.

With Labor re-elected at the end of 2014, Airport Rail was initially seen as a low priority. In October 2017, Labour’s Victorian infrastructure plan suggested a delay of 15 to 30 years. However, community and institutional pressure had steadily increased and just a month later Prime Minister Andrews announced that “by the time the Metro tunnel is completed in 2026, the construction of a rail link to the airport will be well advanced”.

Artist’s impression of a new elevated station to connect the $13 billion Airport Rail Link to Melbourne Airport.

Significantly, the Prime Minister added, “this can create the extra capacity we need in the congested rail corridor between Melbourne and Sunshine – meaning we can untangle the regional and metropolitan network on the Geelong and Ballarat lines. It can give Melbourne’s booming west access to electrified metro rail services.

These additions became the government’s Western Rail Plan, firmly committed to in October 2018, just before the last state election. In May 2019, Minister Jacinta Allan said, “The Western Rail Plan is one of the vital projects our growing city and state needs…it is part of our commuter rail and highway blitz. Unfortunately, this “blitz” remains to be seen. daylight and may be a long time coming.

A key part of the Western Rail Plan included high frequency underground electric services to Melton and Wyndham Vale. Passing through the new Melbourne Metro tunnel, Melton trains would alternate with Sunbury trains, some running every five minutes during peak periods. The Airport Railway, essentially a branch line from Albion, was originally designed on the basis that it could pass through the Melbourne Underground with services from Melton. Since then, massive residential growth in Melbourne’s outer west meant that the Melton and Sunbury trains would, between them, consume the entire capacity of the Tube tunnel. The choice was to accommodate airport trains or Melton trains, but not both.

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An unsolicited private sector proposal to build and fund a pair of segregated, partially underground tracks between Southern Cross, Sunshine and the airport and provide fast service with dedicated rolling stock reached the government in September 2018. This would have provided much needed additional capacity. in the Sunshine Corridor and facilitated the provision of metro services to Melton and Wyndham Vale. In November 2020, the government decided to reject the proposal, understandable if it didn’t want to be burned by another unsolicited PPP, given the West Gate Tunnel project debacle.

Subsequently, it was reconfirmed that the Airport Line would link with the Sunbury Corridor at Sunshine, with trains from the Airport passing through the Underground Tunnel every 10 minutes.

Today, in 2022, the first works will soon begin to build the airport line. The designs are largely finalized, although it remains to be seen whether the airport station will be on an elevated or underground structure. However, the project is not without controversy with the Sunshine/Albion community and Brimbank Council very unhappy with a proposed 20m high flyover structure in Albion, seen as seriously compromising the heritage district being developed there. -down. The Auditor General also criticized some aspects of the project’s business case, probably rightly so, but that won’t hamper the project.