UPDATE: The state government has moved to dispel concerns that Ballarat and future fast rail would be short changed by its decision to build a Sunshine to airport rail link, over a designated tunnel.
Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan said the announced alignment would provide more options for regional travellers than a direct airport tunnel from Sunshine to Southern Cross.
Ms Allan said those travelling on the Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong lines will be able to change at Sunshine station while passengers travelling on the Gippsland line could change once at Pakenham or Caulfield and Shepparton Line passengers will change at Southern Cross and at Footscray, which the tunnel idea did not allow for.
"The Metro Tunnel alignment delivers more reliable services for regional Victoria - and the Ballarat line upgrade currently underway is paving the way for extra services," Ms Allan said.
"The Ballarat Line Upgrade is the first stage in delivering faster services for Ballarat, and we're getting on with delivering that.
"Running some Geelong services via the Werribee corridor frees up capacity on the Sunshine corridor for additional services to Melbourne's west including Ballarat and Bendigo.
"Future projects on the Ballarat Line are being considered as part of the Western Rail Plan."
Ms Allan's comments come as Committee For Ballarat chief executive Michael Poulton raised concerns about the state government had cut corners on the deal which he claims could hold ramifications for travellers for years to come.
But Ballarat mayor Daniel Moloney has backed the state government's announcement.
"We have always wanted a link to the airport, we have hoped for the state and federal government to work together to create one," Cr Moloney said.
"We now have the opportunity to connect Ballarat to the state and the rest of the world. To get on a train to Sunshine station and connect without having to go into the city, without buses to and from Southern Cross.
"I'm glad we've moved to a position where country rail is now seen as viable transport, 25 years ago if you didn't have a car you got on a train, now it is seen as the quickest alternative.
"With the benefit of hindsight, it was hard to convince people to use rail at the time, now the state and federal government can look at the stats and show that rail is becoming the transport mode of choice."
EARLIER: THE state government has turned its back on "$7 billion of Australian money" and might have ended any hopes of a fast rail from Ballarat to the city after it announced the final plans for the long-awaited airport rail link.
The "cheaper" option tabled by the state government on Saturday morning will see a new line constructed from Sunshine to the Melbourne Airport. Construction will begin in 2022 and be ready for patronage by 2029 at a cost of $8-15 billion.
A $20 billion option, which would have seen funding both by a private consortium and the state and federal government to build a dedicated airport tunnel from Southern Cross, was taken off the table.
READ MORE: Airport rail decision imminent
Committee For Ballarat chief executive Michael Poulton said the decision to forego the tunnel would have lasting ramifications for generations to come.
"It's a really sad day for regional Victoria and a and a terrible day for Ballarat," Mr Poulton said.
"The state government has cut corners and Melbourne will suffer. It proves they are philosophically opposed to private partnerships. At a time when every government around the world is bleeding, they are turning their back on $7 billion, and this was Australian money, not Chinese money.
"Look at the disaster of the NBN. Corners were cut and it was compromised and we're paying for it now. This decision will have ramifications for generations to come.
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"We offered a statewide solution to unlock congestion, now it's clear we need to be selfish and fight for Ballarat only to make sure we get the Western Rail Plan off the ground to make sure we get the electrification of the line to Melton, which should be all the way to Bacchus Marsh."
While Mr Poulton said he hoped it wasn't the end for fast rail, Rail Futures Institute president John Hearsch was more pessimistic saying the lack of mention of the Western Rail Plan in the announcement was not a good sign.
"By announcing the plan that six trains will run every hour to the airport, they've effectively crowded out electrification.
"The ultimate capacity on the western side is 23 train an hour, not 24 as there needs to be space for the Gippsland train at the other end. At the end of the day 18 trains will be consumed with Sunbury and aiport train, which leaves at most five to Melton.
"They are not going to justify electrification for five trains. The Melton suburban line already needs twice as much as that already."
Mr Hearsch said the money already spent on the Ballarat line might allow for extra services, but they would not be faster.
"The Ballarat and Bendigo line have been ignored," he said. "They seem to think they've spent some money on the Ballarat line, and Bendigo Line. I think they think, 'we've looked after them, we won't do any more'.
"They keep on concentrating on service frequency which we support, but people in Ballarat and Bendigo want faster trips to the city and I can't see under the present proposal that will be changing."
Mr Hearsch referred to two press releases sent out by the state government in November 2017 and October 2018 as proof it had gone back on its word to regional commuters.
On November 23, 2017, Premier Daniel Andrews said an airport link needed to be "done properly."
"It can create an extra capacity that we need in the congested rail corridor between Melbourne and Sunshine, which means we can untangle the regional and metropolitan network on the Geelong and Ballarat lines," Mr Andrews said.
"It can give Melbourne's booming west access to electrified metro rail services...by separating metro lines from regional ones, that dream becomes a reality."
And deep into the election campaign in October 2018, Mr Andrews said "The growth of Melbourne's western suburbs and the popularity of Geelong and Ballarat as commuter hubs, means our network needs more than just an upgrade, it needs redrawing".
"Only Labor's $150 million plan includes the complete overhaul of our public transport network integrating the Metro Tunnel, Suburban Rail Loop and Airport Rail Link and three new interdependent projects needed for fast rail."
Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allen said passengers from Geelong, Bendigo and Ballarat would travel via a single interchange at Sunshine station.
"It delivers the best possible integration with the existing network and paves the way for future improvement to regional and western metropolitan lines," she said.
The Courier has posed questions regarding the future of electrification to Melton, but as yet those questions have not been responded to.
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