There is no such thing as a beautiful photo of the OrlyVAL. Wikipedia Commons

It’s taken forever, but both sides of Victorian politics seem to have stumbled upon the only smart, fast and least expensive way of providing rail services to Avalon airport.

Instead of moving the heavy rail line between Melbourne and Geelong to include the airport, which was about as dumb an idea as possible, the new proposal is to link the existing line to Melbourne’s second and little used airport via a small automated light rail link.

This would be just like the OrlyVAL (Véhicule Automatique Léger) which links the most convenient of Paris airports, Orly, to nearby Antony station, which is on the heavy rail metropolitan RER B line that runs through and under Paris from south to north to end up, if you catch the right train, at the larger but less convenient Paris airport named after Charles de Gaulle.

The result won’t satisfy those in Victoria looking to the building of gleaming new architectural wonders at enormous expense, a point strikingly obvious at Orly.

As reported in The Age this is a solution which is hopefully all about inexpensive functionality so that the costs do not steal funds from more urgently needed rail projects elsewhere in the state.

Orly and its VAL are truly ugly, but functional. And the history of the VAL bit was one of financial folly when it was built in the early 90s, something it has in common with the Airport Rail link to Sydney Airport, right down to similarly outrageous surcharges for using it, once you get off the otherwise inexpensive train service to Antony station and walk to the end of the platform where the VAL awaits. (You have to buy a separate ticket at Antony, or carry a combined RER plus OrlyVAL encoded ticket to access the service.)

The one thing that doesn’t ring likely in The Age report is the implication that passengers would do their checking in and general loitering-with-intent to board a flight at the new rail station optimistically named Avalon Airport and then board the light rail link at the last moment.

One of the drivers of private ownership of airports anywhere in the world is ensure that passengers go directly to the investment site, spend as much money as possible on its retail tenants, all of whom share the loot with the airport owners, and then board their flight.

Even if it was proposed that Lindsay Fox were to own the Not-Avalon-Airport station, it is far more likely that he would want its customers to be spending their money in his real Avalon Airport, which if it achieves anything like its future potential, will grow way bigger than the rail station, where duplication of check-in facilities and baggage drops would seem wasteful.

The owners of Avalon Airport (er, make that Melbourne 2 airport) might want to own the light rail link between it and the new heavy rail station but they would definitely make the case that its customers belong in their airport for as long as possible, not at the railway station.

And a note for those visiting Paris who might think the rail links between it and Paris are completely straightforward. They are not completely safe! Paris has become even less safe for visitors than it has been in recent years.

You can change from the RER B to other RER and Metro lines at shared stations in central Paris, but if you haven’t done this before be aware that some of those connections are manic at peak hours and not particularly safe to do when its quiet and its just you, the muggers and some long walks to find some of the platforms you may be seeking.

Know what street you want to exit on to, and whether you will turn left or right and so forth on reaching street level before starting your rail journey from Orly. Try not to look lost, it’s a dead give away.

This has nothing to do with the future success of an Avalon rail link. We just don’t want readers to be under any misapprehension as to what the template for such a link in Paris is like in real life.

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