Included in the election pledges of 2018 from both Federal and State Governments, was $5 billion each towards building the Melbourne Airport Rail Link (MARL).
AirRail, a private consortium, also pledged $5 billion, to deliver a truly world-class MARL after more than 40 years of waiting.
Sitting here in Ballarat and the surrounding regions, you might be thinking so what?
HAVE YOUR SAY AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS STORY
Unless you are travelling to the Melbourne Airport, a 15-billion-dollar investment in rail, may seem a long way removed from your daily consciousness. But here's the thing.
The only reason why it's taken 40+ years to get to a decision on an Airport Train, is that the business case for such a piece of infrastructure has never stacked up, when considered in isolation.
But the business case does stack up when you include a Tunnel with the capacity for Regional Trains from Ballarat, Geelong, Bendigo and Shepparton.
"New underground tracks starting from Southern Cross are the only practical solution .... to unlock additional train capacity," to provide the infrastructure needed for fast trains to the regions, including Ballarat. (John Hearsch, Rail Futures Institute).
There are three reasons for this:
- The tunnel will enable a world-class airport rail link, operating 24/7 every 10 minutes, with a commute time of 15-20 minutes.
- The Airport Rail Link will, to quote Daniel Andrews, "untangle the regional and metro network... and give Melbourne's booming west access to electrified metro rail services"
- And most importantly, the tunnel takes all region trains, including Ballarat, off the metro system and runs those trains underground through the most heavily congested rail corridor into Southern Cross.
Let's reiterate this proposition as a win, win, win. A tunnel delivers fast, reliable and frequent services to and from regional cities to Melbourne. A win for Regional Rail.
A tunnel delivers fast, reliable and frequent services to and from the CBD to the Airport. A win for travellers.
A tunnel de-congests the metro system through some of the fastest growing suburbs in country. A win for commuters in Melbourne's west.
Let's add some additional wins.
A tunnel is a win for all those who want to choose the train over the car.
Choosing the train over the car helps us reduce our carbon emission; a win for the environment.
This is why #itmustbeatunnel and this is why a 15-billion-dollar investment is the right investment for the future.
Anything less is short-sighted and after 40+years of waiting for we simply cannot get this decision wrong.
Anything less does not future proof our regions to population growth and will not deliver the fast, reliable and frequent train services we deserve.
So, if I'm in the State Government's camp saying that we simply can't afford a tunnel, why can't an alternative proposal work for the Airport Link.
The State Government's alternative would see Airport trains connect into the Melbourne Metro Tunnel system (MM1), currently being built.
The 'runway' for trains in this scenario would deliver 3 services per hour (during peak times), with a "stopping all stations" service, on existing Metro rolling stock.
It's the recipe for a slow, infrequent and unreliable service that is likely to end up as a white elephant from day one.
The Skybus departs every few minutes, is more convenient for travellers and quicker, likely even in peak hour.
It will be a third-rate solution at best, will compromise the MM1 tunnel from the get-go and most importantly, it will destroy any hope we have of world-class, 21st century train travel to regional Victoria, at least for the next generation or two.
For Ballarat and our surrounding regions, population growth is inevitable.
We have shown a great desire for train travel to Melbourne with a 46% increase in V-Line patronage on the Ballarat to Melbourne rail corridor over the four years (Rail Futures Institute, Nov 2019).
This is despite the fact the service falls consistently below V-Line's own performance measures.
Anyone who travels to Melbourne on the train will have their stories and I am sure none would rate it as a world-class service.
Despite the State Government's recent investment of $518m on the Ballarat line, slower travel times, Ballarat to Melbourne have been the result.
The V-Line timetables for December 2019 shows an 'Express" Peak Time journey will take 74 minutes.
A Non-Express Off-Peak Time journey will take 99 minutes.
In 2006 the then Minister of Transport Peter Batchelor announced new services for Ballarat which included 64 min travel times for an express peak service journey.
We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to get this right.
If common sense prevails and we take the long-term view by backing a commitment to the project and the tunnel, we could be operational by 2027.
This is not a utopian pipe dream.
It is costed, technically achievable and has the backing of the states most experienced railway professionals, engineers and economist.
We deserve better. #itmustbeatunnel
CEO, Committee for Ballarat