Plans for Airport rail (and Geelong line upgrades) announced

So finally there’s a a firm plan for airport rail, thanks to combined State and Federal funding just announced.

In summary:

  • Airport trains to run via the Metro tunnel to Cranbourne/Pakenham
  • Travel time from Town Hall to Airport of under half an hour
  • One seat ride from the centre of the CBD, Parkville, and dozens of stations in the southeast
  • Interchange to every other Metro line, at Footscray, Melbourne Central/State Library, Flinders Street/Town Hall or Caulfield
  • Interchange to V/Line at Sunshine, Footscray (for some Geelong, see below) or Flinders Street/Town Hall
  • 6 trains per hour (joining up to 12 per hour on the Sunbury line, leaving capacity for at least another 6 to other destinations such as a future electrified Melton line)
  • Premium fare, similar to Skybus now, but paid via Myki

This looks pretty good to me – with a possible caveat on the fare – depends how high it is. Currently Skybus is really expensive if travelling in a group. (There’s hints of discounts for airport workers. This is definitely needed.)

While some want a dedicated tunnel all the way to the City, you don’t build dedicated tunnels for a measly 6 trains per hour and expect it to be affordable. This option gets the Airport connection built – and it doesn’t preclude Sunshine to City express upgrades later.

I’m told data from Melbourne Airport says that well over 90% of airport users are travelling to/from home, so having one or two seat rides from more parts of the rail network is definitely beneficial, even if the trip to the CBD is a little longer than expected.

Travel times will be more reliable, of course, and capacity will be a huge boost over Skybus, particularly as airport peaks are often different to CBD commuter peaks.

Suitcases on a train

Geelong express route

Also just announced: Geelong line upgrades.

In summary:

  • They’ll straighten the alignment and add express track from Werribee to Laverton
  • Some Geelong trains to run via Newport, reaching the City in about 50 minutes. Some trains will continue via Sunshine.
  • This allows more trains to serve Tarneit and Wyndham Vale, as well as potentially the Ballarat and Bendigo lines

The question might be how capacity from Newport to the City shapes up. There’s space for a few more trains in peak, but with the level crossings on the route (none currently slated for removal) and junctions at Newport and around Southern Cross, there might be some capacity challenges.

I’m told this project should be considered the first stage of upgrades for Geelong. Later stages would be aimed at further boosting capacity and reducing travel times, and could include upgrades to the Geelong to Werribee stretch, and potentially ultimately building Metro 2 to run (electrified) Geelong and Werribee trains direct into the City via Fishermans Bend.

Just as with SRL this project makes the case more compelling for better local and rail feeder bus services around Geelong.

Melbourne-bound train approaches Geelong station

Both projects are expected to be completed around 2029, though the government hopes it may be a bit quicker than that.

As I write this on Friday night, the Government statements aren’t out yet. I’ll link to them when they’re published and may add more details as I get them.

It’s great to see both these projects getting the go-ahead. Exciting times ahead.

Update: The official media releases have now been published

Update: It’s not actually confirmed that the Geelong line will get two extra tracks. After others noticed how vague the published information is, I asked and they actually have yet to reach a decision on whether it’s one extra track (for peak direction only) or two tracks. It would seem logical to do two if possible, because there is a fair bit of counter-peak commuting, though of course they also have the tracks via Wyndham Vale, and V/Line at least for now, remains overall a very tidal service.

Update Sunday: More reading:

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.

19 replies on “Plans for Airport rail (and Geelong line upgrades) announced”

Excellent news on just about every count.

For what its worth I’ve run some numbers that show that 160 km/h running Werribee to Paisley (new tracks as far as Aircraft, optional beyond from memory) would more than compensate for the slow running between Newport and the CBD, giving a faster travel time for Geelong trains than current services via Wyndham. It is absolutely critical that the new lines are laid either side of the existing, so that turnbacks at Werribee avoid conflicts with through services (rather than up-down-up-down configuration as seen between Richmond and Caulfield). Newport and Altona junctions will probably both need rebuilding, and there are a range of options available there.

Medium term I’d still like to see Bendigo via Tullamarine because I perceive that route as being easier to add capacity than via St Albans, and faster than diverting via OMR between Diggers Rest and Deer Park; putting the Melbourne Airport services on RRL would also make room for high frequency Melton services on MM1. Long term, the airport could be served by both through Bendigo (and optionally Shepparton) services via RRL to the city (with Ballarat and Wyndham), and local services with additional stops between the airport and Sunshine then run via Brooklyn to MM2, sharing with the Werribee corridor. That would leave Geelong, Williamstown and Westona via Yarraville, which also reduces those level crossings’ boom-down time.

@David, it’s interesting to note that once Old Geelong Road, Cherry St and Werribee St crossings are removed (suddenly the latter makes sense), there are no road crossings between Werribee and Laverton. It’ll be interesting to see if this project deals with those further in, especially Maidstone St where one would think/hope the trains would be running at high speed.

Then there’s Maddox Rd and Champion Rd near Newport – and between Newport and Footscray, there’s those at Spotswood and Yarraville stations.

Removing all of those would improve safety on the high speed sections and/or improve capacity to maximise the number of trains moving through.

Fantastic news on Airport Rail except for those on the Craigieburn and Upfield lines who’ll be forced to wait decades for the Suburban Rail Loop which will provide competitive journey time connections for them at Broadmeadows and Fawkner respectively.

As it stands for the vast majority of passengers along those lines – except for those at the southern extremities of the lines closer to an interchange point – there is simply no logic in travelling all the way to the Underground Rail Loop to then go back out again.

Therefore I don’t expect private vehicle and commercial passenger vehicle trips to the airport to substantially reduce around those rail line areas catchments.

Certainly for many on the Craigieburn line, rail travel to Broadmeadows and then SmartBus to the Airport may remain a more attractive option, even with a 20 minute service frequency.

Wondering how this will link to SRL. Will The SRL terminate at the airport or continue to Werribee? Would be interesting to get a proposed network map. (I thought that the SRL is using its unique trains?)

Will be interesting to see the mix of services on the Geelong line. Will it mean more frequent services than the current 20 minutes, will it mean 40 minute frequency via Sunshine and 40 minute frequency via Werribee, will they run express to/from Werribee or stop at Laverton and/or Newport, what happens at the Geelong end in terms of stopping patterns?

And presumably Airport line trains will be normally priced services up until Sunshine – only charged a premium for embarking or disembarking at the Airport station. Not sure why the airport warrants a premium ticket price. Would that happen too on SRL?

@Daniel – I’d like to see the line Laverton to Paisley quadruplicated with 160 km/h (or higher) outside express tracks as well, but it isn’t strictly necessary at this stage. When either that or standard gauge duplication happens Maidstone Street will need to be separated.
Maddox Road and Champion Road will probably need to be separated as part of the necessary junction redesigns between Altona Junction and Newport station; this would also be an opportunity to build Maddox Road station in stages, short term as a terminating / bus interchange site during MM2 portal works and long term as the interchange between the Westona direct and Werribee via tunnel routes.

At the maximum plausible service frequencies through Newport, Hudson St at Spotswood and Anderson Street at Yarraville could be closed for up to 40 minutes per hour – I haven’t done the math, this is just an educated guess. Hudson St looks fairly easy to separate, though I will note that Spotswood station is in the same category as Essendon, Oakleigh, Heidelberg, Warragul and Essendon and Castlemaine 2/3 so likely either has or soon will have heritage protection; so changing the road height is more likely than the rail. I’m not sure how practical grade separation of Anderson Street is; short term the disruption could be minimised by providing down trains with express/stopping detection (i.e. reduced boom-down time if a train is proven to be stopping at the platform anyway). Either way the congestion element (distinct from safety) is a fairly short-term problem; MM2 will divert over half the via-Yarraville traffic, and Somerville Road provides an alternative traffic route.

@Anon – I agree that the 901 Smartbus needs a frequency boost – at least doubling, preferably more than that.

@Steve – Re Geelong line services, I’d expect something like two separate 15min cycles from Geelong, half via Werribee and half via Wyndham, for 8tph. Add to that, 8tph ex Wyndham local, 4tph Ballarat and 4tph Bendigo for a total of 20tph via RRL; more will be possible depending on what happens with the flat junctions at Deer Park West and Sunshine.

To manage congestion at the CBD end I would expect Southern Cross to be reconfigured with all RRL trains taking the flyover, while Geelong-via-Werribee services terminate in Platforms 14/15 and Metro services run through 13 and 16. This deals with the flat junction at Spion Kop (under Citylink), although I haven’t tested the maximum throughput of V/Line services between Dudley St and LaTrobe St. I expect some of the Southern Cross platforms 1-8 would need to be reconfigured to adjust for current train lengths – signal and crossover placement doesn’t really suit primarily 3-car VLocity operation.

Good news about the new airport rail! I think it makes sense to have stops at Sunshine, Footscray and through the city via the metro tunnel. The fare of $20 approximately though is too expensive and will struggle to gain passengers, at least within the lower to middle income brackets. I think a $10 one way ticket with discounts further for concession and airport worker passengers should be considered. Perhaps there could be a premium carriage with associated higher fares for business passengers.

With the Geelong line upgrade this is good news about extra express tracks, though funding needs to be provided for works at Newport Junction to seperate the lines and potentially level crossing removals between Newport and Footscray to allow for the increased number of trains now expected in this section.

Sounds like good news. With regards to fares perhaps London Heathrow may be a good example. Using Oyster or contactless the fare is a premium 10.20 peak or 10.10 off peak form central London. However for people who make a return journey this is included in the relevant Oyster daily cap of 13.20. So for airport workers who make the return in the same day the fare is 6.60 each way any time. This might be a bit more manageable for airport staff and, although still significantly higher than the 1.50 local bus fare, more competitive with getting off the train at Southall and getting a bus (3.90 peak train one way plus 1.50 bus, 2.80 off peak train, bus still 1.50) or getting the tube at peak time (5.10 one way), less so for tube off peak (3.10).

In regards to the Surcharge for using the airport line, it should only be a few of dollars since this isn’t a special service with a dedicated fleet (ie: luggage racks, etc). We don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the Sydney and Brisbane lines that charged a pretty penny for a very ordinary service and ended up keeping ridership low due to the excessive cost. Another thing with the surcharge is it should only charged once a day so that it encourages usage by employees.

Although this is only a preliminary design and i’ll imagine more information will come out later, I would like to see vline services from Bendigo and/or Albury plan to be rerouted through the airport. I think this is a bit of a missed opportunity to enhance the overall connectivity of the network and give vlines a chance to bypass the suburban lines.

How does this cost $10Billion dollars? Surely the only thing we have to pay for is the extension to the airport. The WA train (including 3 new stations) is a 2 billion dollar project. I suspect i know the reason but struggling to comprehend why Victoria seems willing, able and prepared to pay way above what other states are paying in terms of infastructure.

I think I’m agreeing with Michael O’Brien for the first time ever: spending $10 billion for a train that takes considerably longer than the current SkyBus is ridiculous. For most passengers, they will still need two seats to get from their local train station to the airport and at the same ticket cost as now. Google maps says the distance to the airport is 23km from Southern Cross and takes 22 minutes by car. Puffing Billy would be quicker.
I hope the government doesn’t scrap the 901 bus that I last used to get to the airport from the city (via Broady station) in 45 minutes. All for $4.50.

@Anonymous, the Smartbus to the Airport is every 15 mins on weekdays, which isn’t too bad. Weekends could be improved though.

@Greg, I’m hearing the SRL will be a separate service west of the Airport, which means there’s scope for the Southland to Airport service to be special trains which don’t have to be compatible with whatever is used from Airport to Werribee.

The bigger question might be whether SRL will have additional stations at places like Keilor. One would hope so.

@Steve, there’s a comment from Jacinta Allan implying the initial peak service level will be every 20 mins via Newport, every 20 mins via Sunshine. Presumably additional Wyndham Vale local services would be inserted into that.

Given the Airport trains will also serve as “normal” services between Cranbourne/Pakenham and Sunshine, yes, it appears the only premium stop would be the Airport.

Good question on SRL. Hopefully not.

@David, for Anderson St/Yarraville, the best solution might be just to close the crossing, and add a pedestrian underpass or overpass. This also allows further reduction of traffic in Anderson St east.

@Roger, I really think people need to stop obsessing about travel time to Southern Cross station.

Not many people are actually going there; the interchange to most train lines is really bad; and importantly, Skybus only achieves the claimed 22 minute journey when the roads are quiet. 30-40 mins is not unusual (last time I took it in peak, it was 42 mins).

Let’s take a random example of an actual trip: from the Airport to Brighton Beach station.

Currently: Skybus 22 mins + Transfer to the trains at Southern Cross, let’s say 10 mins including waiting, as it’s a pretty long walk to the suburban platforms.

Catch a train to Flinders Street, taking 4 mins, plus another 5 for changing trains again + 24 mins to Brighton Beach. Total travel time = about 65 mins (but more if the Skybus doesn’t make it in 22, or you have longer to wait between connections)

With the Airport train, it’ll be 29 mins to Town Hall, plus 5 mins to change trains + 24 mins to Brighton Beach. Total travel time: 58 mins, and fewer changes.

If your destination is close to one of the stations served directly by the train, then an even better time saving.

And the train travel time will be much more predictable than the Skybus.

Plus while it’ll still be expensive, no mucking about buying a special ticket, and no queuing to get onto a bus.

I would be interested in the stats from Sydney as to who predominantly uses the Airport service, ie % split between domestic travelers (personal v business), workers in the area, international travelers. I use Sydney service all of the time when traveling for work. It’s priced OK for a single user and is regular. Trains are never packed so you can sit. Would I use the Melbourne service for business traveling out? I would try it. By car the airport in the morning ie leaving 5.30 from Mt Waverley for a 7am flight is 45mins. If it took me over an hour to get there by train then it would be an issue. For personal travel it might be different depending on what time you fly out. Issue however is getting to the station from home with luggage. On your own it might be ok, with 3 kids, not so sure. SkyBus is great used that several times. The car will also be more convenient. In terms of cost it comes down to how long you are away for. It’s also a question of changing habits to avoid using the car.

The Geelong not so fast train is a big missed opportunity, especially as it has been quoted at 30-35 minutes for a while now. Also not creating an Avalon airport stop is a shame as Melbourne could’ve had both airports connected by rail at the same time.

Daniel, thanks for going to the trouble of giving a worked example. In your scenario, the time saving is 7 minutes (65 minutes minus 58 minutes). Perhaps on the weekend, when Sandy trains go round the loop, the time saving would evaporate completely, I’m not sure.
It still strikes me that $10 billion is a lot of money for (at best) a small gain in time savings. The whole community has to pay back the $10 billion. Airport users tend to be higher income earners (like myself).

@radsb, nobody in the state government ever quoted 30-35 minutes – it’s a wish from some of the Federal politicians and/or Geelong locals.

But to achieve that sort of journey time isn’t a simple upgrade – it’s a complete rebuild of the line, complete grade separation, probably electrification too, and a brand new fleet. What’s just been announced could be stage 1 of that, but it was never going to happen in one hit.

@Roger, put it another way – the time saving is about a dependable trip time, not a highly variable one like Skybus now. The bigger benefit is capacity, ride comfort, and a one seat ride to far more destinations. (As with the Geelong line, there’s no reason future upgrades couldn’t build on that.)

Hang on, Jamie makes a good point. I’m struggling to see how this is a $10 billion project when it’s effectively a spur off an existing line. As Jamie says, the new Perth airport line, which is completely underground and includes 2 x underground stations and 1 surface level station – is only $2 billion. I know the route is shorter in Perth but it’s still a fairly big project and is 20% of the price…

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