FUTURE fast rail to both Ballarat and Geelong won't be compromised regardless of what city-airport rail alignment is chosen, the state government claims.
The assurance comes as impetus grows from affected parties and regional heads urging the state government not to compromise. Both the state and federal governments remain locked in negotiations regarding the best route for an airport rail link, which is slated to be operational by 2027.
Both governments, alongside private enterprise, have each committed $5 billion to the project.
On Sunday, The Age reported that Melbourne Airport was the latest organisation to join the protest against the state government choosing a cheaper compromise option that would slow trains on congested existing tracks.
The Herald Sun has also reported the consortium backing the tunnel option, that includes the Melbourne Airport and Metro Trains has put an extra $2 billion on the table to persuade the government to make the best long-term decision.
The call adds weight to Ballarat leaders who have repeatedly warned the compromise would put regional trains behind metro and airport services particularly in the CBD congestion and make faster sub-hour journeys to Southern Cross almost impossible.
The airport itself has argued a dedicated tunnel from the city to Sunshine was the "once-in-a-generation" opportunity that would also ensure the growth areas in Melbourne's western suburbs could grow without rail gridlock.
The preferred route is a new tunnel from Southern Cross Station to Sunshine but other options include a skyrail above suburbs like North Melbourne and Footscray or; the use of the new Metro Tunnel to funnel trains into the city alongside the creation of a line from Sunshine to Tullamarine.
In September last year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison publicly supported a "quick link" to the airport that would include a rail tunnel to Sunshine from Southern Cross, a plan which is backed by the Committee For Ballarat and other interested regional organisations.
But reports at the weekend suggested the state government was preparing to ditch plans for a tunnel, preferring the cheaper extension of the current line through Sunshine.
When contacted, the state government said that suggestion was "incorrect" said all options remained firmly on the table.
It said each option being discussed would allow for; Direct services into the city to and from the airport; An interchange at Sunshine for connections to regional and other metro services; Fast rail to Geelong and Ballarat to be provided and; Increased train services on every train line in Melbourne's west.
"We're working closely with the Commonwealth on all options for airport rail - that will get people to and from the airport quickly with minimal interchanges," a government spokeswoman said.
"All options being assessed for the airport rail will stop at Sunshine for connections to Victoria's major regional rail lines, such as Ballarat."
The state government has already budgeted $100 million on detailed planning for the Western Rail Plan, which includes fast rail to Ballarat. No dates on an announcement of the preferred route have been declared.
Committee for Ballarat chief executive Michael Poulton believes any move away from a tunnel plan would effectively eliminate all hopes of fast rail from Ballarat to Melbourne.
"To achieve high speed rail to the regions, to help ease the pressures of population growth in Melbourne, to ease congestion through Melbourne's booming west and to deliver for Victoria a world class airport rail link, requires the key enabler of a tunnel that gives a new runway into Southern Cross Station," he said.
"The project stacks up financially and will deliver enormous benefits to Victoria. Now is the time to invest in the future of the state.
"It will only be possible with a new runway into Southern Cross, via a tunnel from the super hub at Sunshine."
The Committee For Ballarat is hosting a briefing session with John Hearsch from the Rail Futures Institute and Stronger Together project lead Luke Fraser at Housey Housey in Armstrong Street North this evening from 5.30pm.
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