Napthine promises Airport rail

Victorians will be able to catch a train to the airport with Premier Denis Napthine today announcing that the upcoming State Budget will outline the Coalition Government’s commitment to build a new rail link from Southern Cross Station to Melbourne Airport.

Coalition Government commits to Melbourne Airport Rail Link in State Budget

Really we’ll have to wait for the Budget to see the detail, as it’s pretty vague at the moment.

Here’s the route:

Given the track will run via Sunshine, presumably it’ll use the RRL tracks, which include provision for future electrification.

They haven’t stated a fare cost, but I’m hearing it won’t be standard Myki fares. All they’ve said is it’ll be “affordable”. It’d better be. Skybus is now $18 one way — it’s still cheaper than a taxi for a single person, but a big discouragement for groups.

They haven’t said when it’ll be built, or how much it’s costing.

The airport station will be elevated. I’d been under the impression for some time now that there was existing provision under the terminals for the station. Oh well. Hopefully that means easy level access to the Departures level of the main terminals.

Brisbane Airtrain at the Domestic Terminal

Travel time of 25 minutes is slightly slower than Skybus in off-peak, but considerably faster than peak. And capacity will be much better — Skybus currently gets overloaded at peak times, and it’s very common to see full buses at off-peak times.

25 minutes is not actually that fast for a 30ish kilometre journey. Given the City to Albion section of RRL should be capable of 80kmh, does this mean the train will trundle along at low speed the rest of the way to the Airport? Does it mean a later upgrade could improve the overall travel time, if the Albion to Airport section is upgraded to 130 or 160?

Frequency 10 mins in peak is good. What will it be off-peak? Not sure. There seems to be some talk of also 10 minutes in daytime, which is promising.

They’ve decided the Metro tunnel does not need to be built first. The existing (but unconfirmed) RRL service plan says initially 16 trains per hour from Geelong/Ballarat/Bendigo in peak, and the capacity is 24, so there’s space.

True, it doesn’t allow for much future growth in train numbers, but that’s a problem to solve later. Waiting for a multi-billion-dollar rail tunnel nobody seems willing to fund shouldn’t hold up other projects indefinitely. There are measures you can take when capacity runs out: upgrade the signalling, run longer/higher capacity trains, and of course build more tracks.

Anyway it makes more sense to use express tracks for an express service than fit them onto suburban tracks into the tunnel which have stopping trains on them. It also allows airport trains to be a dedicated fleet, designed specifically for passengers with luggage. (Counterargument: running via the tunnel would provide better access to the CBD, and better connections to other rail lines, assuming it runs down Swanston Street.)

But it’s not clear where they’ll terminate at Southern Cross. Given a premium fare, they might want dedicated platforms to isolate those users and do proper ticket checks, though this would still be a problem at Footscray and Sunshine.

Stopping at Footscray makes sense. I’m not sure about Sunshine, 6-10 minutes away. With each stop taking an extra minute, if most other RRL trains end up skipping Sunshine, it might make better sense not to stop there — though doing so would improve accessibility to the airport, particularly for workers (who hopefully would get fare discounts).

The whole plan has all come out of nowhere, of course. One observer said it sounded like they’d figured it all out on the back of an envelope.

But the politics is encouraging. A few months ago their only major transport pledge was the toll road. Now they’re talking about PT, and the Dandenong package in particular includes real money. It seems they’ve finally realised promising a tollroad when the majority want PT wasn’t going to win them the election.

Oh, and the fact that they mention frequency in the press release? That’s also a good sign that the past myopic focus on infrastructure (with little regard to service quality) might be starting to change.

Update May 2014: The state budget announced the Melbourne Rail Link project, including the airport line. It appears airport trains will not use the RRL tracks, but will use the Sunbury tracks.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

13 replies on “Napthine promises Airport rail”

From what I can see there are some good ideas. Firstly building the airport section elevated, rather than underground should reduce cost. Using the RRL tracks should also enable a faster service.

They need to set the access fee to a reasonable amount ($4) to encourage use. I would also only charge the access fee once a day to encourage airport workers to use it.

Access fee would be a surcharge added on top of the myki fee (2 hour Zone 1 + access fee = 7.58).

Another thing I would like to see with this airport link is to have an extension to the bendigo line.

@Paul – I think it is only fair that airport workers are exempt from any access fee. With a smartcard it shouldn’t be hard to flag airport employees and stop the extra fee from being added.

In general I think it is encouraging that the Coalition is promising real projects for PT, but the way this has been announced is anything but encouraging. The Coalition set up PTV to start coordinating services and to develop a network plan. They released their heavy rail network plan December 2012, less than two years ago. The plan did include a rail line to the airport, but it was a “Stage 3” component of the plan, i.e. it was not considered to be an immediate priority. Personally I think a few of the projects were placed in the wrong stage (mainly that signalling upgrades should have before Metro Rail Tunnel); but suddenly announcing a stage 3 project with very few details, just months before an election stinks of poor planning and short term politicking. This announcement undermines the Coalition’s most important contribution to Melbourne’s public transport network, the establishment of an independent body, at arms length from the government of the day to plan the future of our public transport network and work towards building a coordinated and integrated network.

Ok here is my take on how things should be done

MyKi money at least, is meant to be the all in one card, for use across all services.

MyKi should be open for use on that route, except have its own fare(s). Such as a Aiirport Surcharge

— The route selected —
I do feel this to be the best way to build the rail project.

As said above, it needs to use either the RRL, or the ARTC tracks depending on which track gauge you choose.

I would prefer ARTC, because
+++ I prefer a standardised track gauge
+++ ARTC is a federal government body. May find things easier with the Federal territory that is Melbourne Airport
+++ ARTC is an open access network. I do feel that the route needs to remain open for all kinds of rail operators to make use of this route. Freight as well.


I doubt it. On the other hand, Natphine has only been in power for around two years. Before that it was Ted Baileu. So, perhaps two years is not long enough to give Dennis to do anything??

To be sure, we will not know until the budget is released next month.


There is still a consortium of whom are still looking at the idea of building a monorail between the airport and the Melbourne CDB.

Why can we not do both?

I do feel there may be enough demand for both?

As I understand it, Melbourne Airport link would always be seen as an interstate link as Melbourne Airport is not in the state of Victoria. Therefore the state should have no right to restrict the construction of the Monorail in any way.

Everything outside the airport is certainly the state of Victoria and the airport itself I believe is also the state of Victoria the owner (even crown land vested to the commonwealth) I don’t believe changes the definition of which state the land resides. Any private consortium proposing a monorail have no process to compulsory acquire the land required for a monorail unlike the state or federal governments. Im fairly sure the sate government will be compulsory acquire a section of the airports land as required from the commonwealth to make the link (then again it may just be an access agreement like the airport would need to have with the state for its road connections etc.). I’m sure if the monorail consortium is offering the government a fair amount of compensation for the access then they will be taken very seriously.
Offering an alternate service and saying its considerably cheaper is a bit of a waste of time. We already have a considerably cheaper bus service. Im sure a few billion could build a vacuum tube like out of futurama as an alternate. In all seriousness though I would love to see the access point planned at the airport so that a terminus for train, busses and maybe even the 59 tram can all cross connect there.
It would be a very Melbourne thing to catch a tram to or from the airport.

Tram to the airport would take hours. Hopefully it does not work out like Sydney where it costs much more to get on at the airport and you can just get a taxi easier outside any way. I did not end up taking the airport train when I went to Brisbane last year, airport pick up and drop off to/from my accommodation with a bus was easier.

The current tram 59 stops 6km short of the airport at Airport West and takes about 45mins from flinders street station. So yes proabably around an hour. I note this service is more likely to be used by locals and as a potential tourist novelty more than a logical option with a 25min train from the city. Considering the limited number of stops the train will perform it may be a far more usefull service for local workers trying to access the airport.

Tomorrow Abbot is likely to offer fed money for a rail link to the new sydney airport. If so this will be a reversal on his stand on ‘knitting’. Maybe Ted has a promissory note from the feds in his pocket for our rail link (but he’s not going to let us know till the 6th). Apparently there has been some lobbying on the libs on the lines that funding airport rail is somehow fundamentally different to any other public transport project (go figure!).

Unsurprisingly this issue seems to be getting plenty of press, yet so many reporters seem to be uninformed on the issue.

The decision means the government will almost certainly proceed with the new underground rail network through central Melbourne, linking the airport to the rest of the metropolitan and rural services.

Herald Sun – Promise on Airport Rail:
The new plan increases the likelihood of the $10 billion Melbourne Metro rail tunnel being built, to deal with increased capacity in the City Loop brought on by an airport link.

The Age – Train of thought?
The route was identified last year in a Public Transport Victoria study, which indicated the link would be contingent on building the Metro rail project, which is designed to add capacity to the network. That means the rail link is
unlikely to be finished until at least the next term of government in the
early 2020s.

Not one of these reporters seems to have noticed the alignment isn’t the same as the one PTV identified in their plan, as this service will apparently terminate at Southern Cross and as it is terminating at Southern Cross it isn’t dependent on loop capacity, only capacity at Southern Cross station, and the tracks between Albion and Southern Cross.

Also unsurprisingly I haven’t seen anything in the mainstream press about the fact that this announcement contradicts the Baillieu government’s feasability study, the PTV Development Plan, and Plan Melbourne, which all highlight the project as medium to long term, and contingent on the Metro Tunnel beforehand. Of course many of us pointed out that the Metro Tunnel wasn’t a pre-requisite to network expansion, but it would be nice to see the Government and the media acknowledge the contradictions.

@ “…” – thanks for the comment. Yeah I read it yesterday but didn’t approve it until today given I assume it was intended for me, not the big wide world. Your tip-off was spot on – thanks! Keep them coming!

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