Rail tunnels from Southern Cross to Sunshine would open the way to fast travel to Melbourne Airport, Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and Shepparton
Daniel Andrews appears determined to squander both State and Commonwealth taxpayers' money on a slow, second-rate airport rail link that condemns regional rail commuters to decades of poor and deteriorating services. This is in the face of the ongoing population surge in Melbourne, more than 120,000 per year, and the consequent negative impacts on city-wide congestion, over-crowded public transport and diminished liveability.
In October 2019, Victorian Treasurer, Tim Pallas, let the cat out of the bag at a Delphi Bank function. He is reported to have said the Government was no longer committed to building dedicated rail tunnels as part of the Melbourne Airport rail link, but rather, the Government was considering having airport trains stop at suburban stations.
Victoria is at an historic juncture: a decision to build a slow suburban service to the airport will not only condemn Melbourne air travellers to an "old slow coach" option (not what they want according to a December 2019 Tourism and Transport Forum survey which showed four out of five people supported a fast direct link), but will effectively block long-term feasible options for fast regional rail. The Victorian Government plans to use the existing tracks and squeeze air travellers onto the Melbourne Metro high capacity trains due in 2025, as a cost-saving measure for city access. This will not work.
Not only will the high capacity metro trains already be full (ie. projected capacity will be exceeded when they start in 2025), but the Government's plan is predicated on a dump and run option. Passengers from Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo will be forced to transfer at Sunshine, dragging their bags to another platform and join the suburban commuter crush. Gone will be the days of a proper stand-alone regional rail service.
Melbourne has but one chance to learn from overseas and get this right. New underground tracks starting from Southern Cross are the only practical solution to avoid massive property acquisition and unlock additional train capacity between Southern Cross and Sunshine.John Hearsch
The Liberal Nationals reject this option outright. We firmly believe that fast European-style regional rail must be prioritised and not become victim of Labor's suburban rail woes. A once in a generation opportunity will be lost by the wrong decision. Blocking tunnels or spending the Federal Government's money on a half-baked solution is a tremendous mistake.
New tunnels from Southern Cross Station to near Sunshine are critical for improved and faster regional rail, as well as providing a new fast, frequent service for travellers to and from the airport. Many regional city local governments are highly supportive of regional fast rail; Ballarat, Geelong and Shepparton, for example. Beyond councils, key business groups - "Committees for" - are deeply focussed on delivering true regional fast rail.
The CEO of the Committee for Ballarat, Michael Poulton, has explained the importance of the project, indicating tunnels can speed up journeys for regional trains, and decongest the lines above ground for commuters in Melbourne. Poulton is right. He and his colleagues in Shepparton and other "Committees for" understand the significance of regional fast rail in knitting the state together, providing faster commuter access, supporting regional tourism and other employment creation and taking population growth pressure off Melbourne.
The Committee for Melbourne understands the importance of proper fast airport rail - a long delayed project - for Melbourne as an international city:
Recently we collaborated with 4 other Victorian "Committees For" in calling on the Federal and State governments to deliver on their commitment to develop a world-class airport train that enhances travel times to the city, provides a dedicated service for travellers, reduces suburban rail network congestion and links the state's aviation gateway to its cities and the regions.
The independent Rail Futures Institute has developed thoughtful rail plans for metropolitan Melbourne and country Victoria. RFI's President, John Hearsch, has said:
Melbourne has but one chance to learn from overseas and get this right. New underground tracks starting from Southern Cross are the only practical solution to avoid massive property acquisition and unlock additional train capacity between Southern Cross and Sunshine. These will not only carry airport trains, but also have ample capacity to provide the first section of infrastructure needed for fast trains to Geelong and, in future, Ballarat.
A key issue is also the huge population growth in Melbourne's west and north: Wyndham, Melton and Hume. This explosive growth has turned what have been regional railways into effectively city commuter services. This is why regional railway access direct to the city and high-speed options need to be protected. The Liberal Nationals agree with the urgent electrification of services to Wyndham Vale and Melton, but country services should be protected and not have to wait, standing quietly in line like Oliver Twist with a begging bowl, until the Melbourne Metro is finished and electrification to Wyndham Vale and Melton is completed.
The Transport for Victoria network planning document leaked to the Opposition last year (and available at www.daviddavis.com.au) made it clear that Daniel Andrews and Labor will do nothing to build fast rail until after 2026.
The population pressure on Melbourne can be relieved by proper decentralisation plans. The Commonwealth has said it will change the immigration program to favour new migrants who settle in regional cities. It's sensible. But such a program is strongly supported by speedy, reliable European-style fast rail that makes our regional cities more attractive places to live and do business.
The Liberal Nationals believe fast regional rail connections are key pieces of infrastructure to underpin Victoria's economic development.
Sydney, Brisbane and the world's international cities have fast airport rail to their city centres. Melbourne must too! Sydney has Federal money for a second airport rail for an airport yet to be built, while Melbourne doesn't even have one.
It's just plain dumb to proceed with a slow, suburban, stopping all stations, airport rail option, as it appears Daniel Andrews is attempting to convince Prime Minister Morrison to do; that does not involve new tunnels, necessarily making it un-competitively slower than the existing SkyBus; that condemns Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and Shepparton commuters to ever slower, more crowded and less reliable services.
It is sincerely to be hoped that the Commonwealth Government does not agree to such an absurd and unsatisfactory outcome.
The Hon David Davis, MP
Shadow Minister for Transport Infrastructure