Hopes an Airport Rail tunnel option including a tunnel between Southern Cross and Sunshine which would free up space for regional trains, have been dashed.
The dedicated tunnel option, backed by the Committee for Ballarat, the Rail Futures Institute the City of Ballarat and other regional bodies was aimed at future-proofing capacity for passengers in the congested Melbourne corridor and was the best groundwork for potential future fast rail to Ballarat, Geelong and Bendigo.
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Metropolitan media are reporting the State and federal Governments announced the decision on Friday night to go with the cheaper option of incorporating the airport link into the Metro tunnel system.
The $8-15 billion dollar option will have dedicated tracks built from the airport to Sunshine, where regional commuters can transfer, and then run into the metro tunnel currently being built.
They report the private consortium was informed by the State Government on Friday night , they would not be going with the more expensive option.
The tunnel plan, which would have cost up to $20 billion, was supported by a private consortium that has offered to pay $7 billion for construction in exchange for the right to charge access fees for other trains using the tunnel.
The state and federal governments were to find the rest of the money.
Rail experts have long argued building the tunnel would create space for additional regional trains between airport-only trains, bringing fast rail to Ballarat and Geelong a step closer.
The federal government has allocated billions of dollars for an airport rail link and fast regional rail - during the 2019 election, the Coalition promised $2 billion for fast rail to Geelong.
Committee for Ballarat chief Michael Poulton told The Courier earlier this year the unified support for the sunshine tunnel option was all about a long-term picture for faster regional rail as more people looked to the regions to live.
"The tunnel is the only option currently in the table that enables the next generation of fast, high frequency regional rail to the growing cities of Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong, whilst at the same time, ensuring the western suburbs massive growth needs are catered for. The state government's proposed Melbourne Metro tunnel (solution) does not solve the demands for growth of regional rail."
The state government committed $100 million to the Western Rail Plan over four years, which will determine the next steps to improve rail infrastructure.
Other rail advocates want to see more done in the infrastructure area to free up the growing western corridor which slows regional trains down when they hit Melbourne.
Independent rail advocate Nick Beale - has long pushed for the planned quadruplication between Melton and Sunshine, which would allow regional trains to bypass suburban stops like Rockbank, should be prioritised ahead of other proposals, like the ambitious Suburban Rail Loop, which would create a rail link across Melbourne's outer suburbs.
"As long as the connection between Southern Cross and the airport is complete, Ballarat would remain advantaged by the airport link - the quadruplication will assist in quicker services, and more services, into Southern Cross.
"I do think that the spaghetti of Southern Cross Station does need a better solution."
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