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Sep 13, 2010

Hong Kong Airport Express, Wikipedia Commons
Hong Kong Airport Express, Wikipedia Commons

There are clear signs in today’s media that Melbourne is getting closer to playing its airport-rail corridor cards.

The advantage are obvious. Sydney has wilfully crippled its chances of remaining Australia’s gateway city by mismanaging not just its airport capacity, but its general rail, road and port infrastructures.

But Melbourne can do so much more than just link its airports at Tullamarine and Avalon to a metropolitan train and tram hub at Southern Cross Station, and thus, to each other.

It can built fast public transport corridors between both airports and the CBD that will attract and serve more residential and business developments.

Easy access between Hong Kong's metro and airport express trains
Easy access between Hong Kong's metro and airport express trains

The contemporary templates for well served growth corridors between cities and airports include those in Japan and China in general, and in particular at Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur.

None of the conventional rail links used in these examples are high speed, except by comparison to Australian urban rail services. The three stop express from Hong Kong Airport to Central does a top speed of around 130 kmh, and would only save a few minutes of its 24 minutes maximum length journey through Ting Yi and Kowloon to Hong Kong Island if it were to briefly exceed 200 kmh, but it is smooth, fast and incredibly useful, and connects easily with the MTR metro lines serving greater Hong Kong as well as some trains into the nearer PRC.

The Bandar Tasik Selatan station on the Kuala Lumpur express line
The Bandar Tasik Selatan station on the Kuala Lumpur express line

Melbourne can achieve similar results without having to drill tunnels through Sydney sandstone, where awkward topography meets an impenetrable bureaucratic and political resistance to any transport infrastructure projects that don’t divert 80 per cent of total costs into special dividends or fees for private banking interests.

To achieve fast non-stop to Southern Cross airport services, yet provide for future exploitation by multi-stop services along development corridors, Victoria needs to reserve more space than required for only two tracks.

The minimum requirement is to leave enough room so that intermediate stations (or the reconstruction of existing stations the lines may serve) will have two through tracks, sealed off by wind blast walls, and space for outboard tracks that will stop at platforms also protected by a barrier with aligned doors, as is now normal in 99 per cent of new rail stations world wide, whether heavy rail or metro in nature.

There would also be a case for optimal designing of the airport platforms below the main level at Southern Cross to provide the easiest possible access to the other rail services and trams.

Even if the state cannot afford to built the Avalon-Southern Cross-Tullamarine lines in other than stages, the lesson from abroad is to ensure that the alignments and easements for the entire project are recognised or set aside in everything that is built from day one.

Having two competing and well connected airports can deliver Melbourne and Victoria benefits from economic expansion that Sydney and NSW have probably already lost for good.

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15 thoughts on “Melbourne + two airports + rail = $$$$

  1. mrsynik

    The new Keisei Railway linking Ueno to Narita Airport allows the new Skyliner to operate at 160km/h. Granted, until the trains are onto their own line past Takasago (the junction for the classic Keisei Line & the Hokuso-Narita SkyAccess Line) they operate at typical suburban speeds. The Narita SkyAccess Line actually uses a section of the partially built, but then abandoned Narita Shinkansen – it’s on this section where the top speed is reached. Further improvement works are currently underway to separate the all-stopping trains from the Skyliner so in the future the current approx 40mins needed from Narita to Ueno will be further reduced.

    Any chance of this kind of work and or thought in Australia? Unlikely IMO.

  2. wordfactory

    Ben, you’re talking commonsense – no match for the lengths the Melbourne Tullamarine airport operator will go to to ensure the $100 million+ annual profit it makes from car parking is never taken away. Just watch.

  3. Quizzical

    Too true. The opportunity was there when the Citylink freeway work was done (straight down the middle) but somewhere in my memory banks lurks the premier doing a deal with the taxis to all be yellow and to maintain the (paid) people moving role for Tulla.
    Avalon would be an easy extension also – but the other reality in Victoria is that the rail system is neither user friendly nor something on which many wish to travel alone. Then there is the question of whether you will find your car in one piece when you return to the rail station where you parked it to catch the train to the airport.

    Tis also a matter of comparative cost – the rail link in BN for example is not a real cheap alternative.

    Many probably happily pay the rort parking fees at ML for the comfort and security of own vehicle and the free courtesy bus to/from the terminals. But, a rail link would likely in time gain good support. Good call Ben!

  4. BuiltEnvirons

    A growing number of people are showing their support on Facebook:

    I support a Melbourne AIrport Rail Link

  5. TomM

    I’m not clear on why the State should be spending x billions on a rail line to Tullamarine when there is already a pretty good express, specialised and reasonably priced ($26 return) option in the form of the SkyBus which is at no risk to the taxpayer? Building an airport link rail line is no automatic guarantee of success.

    Sure somewhere like Hong Kong, Tokyo etc with a much lower car use will almost always make a rail link effective, but I don’t see the point for Melbourne. Locals will drive or get friends / family to drop them, business people will get taxis or limos; leaving lower budget tourists as your main customer.

    Don’t get me wrong, I really like the idea of a dedicated Tullamarine rail link, but to make it truly successful it will need dedicated carriages with baggage racks (I’m looking at you Sydney), relatively high frequency, express service to the City and connected to a high quality transport interchange. I think it will fail on several fronts, with the money better spent on other public transport areas in Melbourne first and leave the private sector through SkyBus or others to compete and take the risk. And yes I take the SkyBus regularly and find it well run, clean, on time and drops me off and picks me up again from my hotel door in the city. I don’t quite see the public sector providing that service for $26 return.

    Building a (probably much cheaper given the lack of suburbs to get through) spur line to Avalon in 10 to 20 years (when there might be the airline traffic to support it) probably makes more sense where higher speeds on rail vs. road on the longer route to the city will give better transit times.

    And as for expensive parking options, well there are alternatives if you don’t like the cost, or put your money into the super funds (those pesky private owners) who own most of the airports in Australia.

  6. Quizzical

    Good points particularly the final para – profits drive the equation.

    It is a chicken and egg situation re the rail – ML really does not offer good public transport particularly to the East (that’s why the Monash car park clogs each day).

    The parking fees at ML – here’s a reasonable opinion and comparison

  7. Ben Sandilands

    SkyBus gets my money on merit too. It’s an excellent service. In my opinion the merit in developing a rail corridor that links Tullamarine-Southern Cross-Avalon is more about the economic development of greater Melbourne with an investment in a world class public transport infrastructure of longer term relevance to the commuting public than air travellers, even though on current forecasts passengers numbers through Tullamarine will double by the early 2020s.

    It would also capitalise on the business travel unfriendly nature of Sydney Airport and its transport infrastructure in general, and encourage companies that generate significant amounts of state revenue and air travel to locate themselves in Melbourne. That part of the equation is radically improved by competition between the owners of the Avalon and Tullamarine airports.

    Sydney could achieve the same by building a Sydney West airport at the Badgery’s Creek site (which is already easily connectible to the M7/M4/M5) which could also be served by a rail link as a surface extension to the Chatswood-Epping line. I have doubts about a high speed rail link being built all the way from Badgery’s Creek to the Sydney CBD because of engineering issues, however a fast link which connects to the existing metropolitan lines at Parramatta, Granville and Strathfield in one direction, and the existing Sydney Airport line at Holsworthy in another is comparatively easy to build, except that it will be in NSW, with a toxic political and bureaucratic legacy to overcome.

    In this game, Melbourne has all the advantages and opportunities.

  8. mook schanker

    The question Ben is whether the economic benefits of an airport link are outweighed by economic benefits elsewhere such as regional rail link or any other projects in the pipeline or proposed. It has to be carefully measured to ensure a direct loss making venture of an airport rail line is clearly outweighed by all the benefits. As TomM rightfully says, the Skybus is a good service, quick and regular which likely turns a profit at little risk.

    The sad fact is that most Melburnians do not use public transport and would this suddenly change with an airport link connected to a radial rail network? I am sure the Government would have performed the cost/benefit analysis weighting in economic & social benefits, but will they release it? However, I am sure several other transport infrastructure proposals will be in front of the airport link.

    I’m all for public transport myself but this always needs to be tempered by testing user demand & density, pull factors, costs & revenue and economic growth opportunities to ensure taxpayers dollars are efficiently maximised.

  9. spacedog

    I believe that one legal/political obstacle for a rail link to Melbourne Airport is the agreement between the Vic Government and the owners of Melbourne CityLink. Until such time as the Government takes ownership of the CityLink infrastructure in 2034, no such link can be built without either a massive breach of that agreement and/or 24 years of revenue compensation. Add to that all the taxi and bus operators who would also want compensation, and I suspect you have a Government that will never budge on this.

  10. Ben Sandilands

    Such obstacles could make an Avalon economic development corridor with rail providing the back bone very interesting. It could result in stronger growth at Avalon compared to Tullamarine, and as congestion from airport and non-airport traffic increases on CityLink we might see Avalon’s advantages for travellers become more compelling.

  11. Quizzical

    There are some inhibitors to be considered at Avalon, though.

    To increase much further would require some heavy investment in the terminal/s, the ATC tower, taxiways, (and car parking) etc.

    As well, the lack of a cross runway is a limiting factor. Even were this installed it adds further complications re noise footprints and air traffic management.

    We need to keep perspective on the two airports. For Jan-Jul inclusive this year AV has handled 4280 movements to ML 116834 (27 times to save calculators). In 2008/09 ML handled over 24 million pax, AV between 1 and 1.4 million (Jetstar were hard to get data on for CIC reasons back then).

    There was a rumour of a GP track to be established around the AV airport – would be a flash of genius – and that would be a stimulus for a rail service – given Lara and the existing VLine is only a boomerang throw away.

  12. Roger

    I too would love a decent rail link from Melbourne airport to the city, but (1) who will pay for it and (2) how much will a journey cost?
    Regarding HK airport train, last year we opted to take a “suburban bus” from the airport to Hong Island (our hotel) since the bus cost less than half the airport train and delivered us to within 100m of our hotel. If we had used the rail link, we’d need to change trains (lugging our bags). It took a little longer by bus but we were tourists, so what!

  13. Quizzical


    Good point but I feel there is a limit to how much further freeways can be developed as we move closer to gridlock. At least the train would be an alternative that would reduce vehicle traffic and – in time – offer a much faster trip as the motorists inch forward.

  14. Holden Back

    So can I assume you are all scratching your heads over myki, having used the octopus system?

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