With the kerfuffle over whether the Airport rail link will or won’t be paused, delayed or cancelled, a couple of common myths have come up again.
Citylink will sue
One myth is that the government can’t build an airport rail link because Transurban/Linkt/Citylink will sue them.
The PTUA Myths web site has the detail here. Theoretically they could claim compensation if their toll revenue was affected by transport network changes.
But Kennett wasn’t a complete idiot when setting up the contract. A number of a road projects were carved out as exclusions, unable to trigger compensation, and also included was a rail link – specifically:
the development of a new public transport rail link between the central city and Tullamarine Airport as part of the metropolitan heavy rail network.
Note the qualifiers – my emphasis added.
Sometimes people propose ideas such as a monorail along the freeway. That might not be covered by this clause.
Likewise a High Speed Rail connection as part of a broader statewide or national network is sometimes proposed. That also might not be covered.
What about the proposed Suburban Rail Loop connection to the airport from Broadmeadows? Well, it’s going not going to connect to the central city. It’s going to be a driverless independent line, but it will serve as part of the overall suburban rail network. So will the lawyers get involved? Perhaps only if it opens before the Citylink contract expires.
A railway serving freight? As the PTUA page notes – that likely would trigger compensation.
But as currently designed, the Airport rail link is part of the metropolitan heavy rail network, runs to the central city, and is intended to serve passengers, so it should not attract compensation.
Aside from the old 1990s contract, and possibly superseding it, the rail link is also specifically named in the updated “CityLink Concession Deed – Assumed Transport Network Enhancements” – as part of the West Gate Tunnel agreement.
There’s a station in the basement!
Another frequently repeated story is that the airport terminals were built with space for a station in the basement. Some versions of the story say it’s all built, including platforms; others just say there’s a void with space for a station.
Nobody seems to have ever presented any evidence of it, not so much as a single photo.
I asked a senior person at the Airport about it. It’s not true.
There are service tunnels, but nothing big enough for a railway station.
Notably, it seems that the Airport would prefer an underground station – in part because it could offer a more seamless entry into the terminals (and it’s hard to argue with this), and also perhaps in part to ensure the line can later be extended later if need be, to a potential future terminal on the other side of the runways.
So if there really was an void under the terminals big enough for a station, they’d be shouting about it from the rooftops, and taking the media on guided tours of it.
The government wants an elevated station, probably largely to contain costs – though the project as a whole is still set to cost $10+ billion. They’ll need to make absolutely certain that it provides an easy entry into the terminals, with 100% cover from the weather. It may end up being a long walk from the last carriage of an eventual 10-car train to the terminal.
You can’t build everything all at once
Alongside all the other big infrastructure projects going on… they may have discovered that they can’t build everything at the same time. My view is they should look carefully at what are the priorities as Melbourne continues to grow.
The bigger Melbourne becomes, the more troubleprone big new motorways are – they end up adding more traffic than they fix. So prioritising projects is important. As I wrote in The Age exactly five years ago, we can afford better public transport – if we stop building freeways.
If it was up to me, I’d be halting North East Link, given the cost is huge and rising. Unfortunately, West Gate Tunnel might be too far progressed to stop, despite the likely traffic impacts on inner Melbourne.
Confirmation of what’s going ahead and what’s being paused should be in the State Budget on 23rd May.