Airports & aviation

Feb 28, 2012

Does every city need an airport rail line?

The CEO of Melbourne Airport, Chris Woodruff,

Alan Davies — Editor of The Urbanist

Alan Davies

Editor of The Urbanist

[caption id="attachment_14707" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="An 'anagram' map of the London Underground (click for more). How's this? An anagram of 'Parliament' (a station in Melbourne's CBD) is 'Rampant Lie'. An anagram of 'Town Hall' (in Sydney) is 'Wont Hall'"][/caption] The CEO of Melbourne Airport, Chris Woodruff, has a gripe. The Victorian Government is pressing ahead with construction of a $250 million rail line to support his competitor – Avalon Airport – but is spending a mere $6.5 million to study the warrant for rail to Melbourne Airport. Yet as I noted once before, while both airports have enormous scope for expansion, Avalon is 55 km from the CBD and has just six scheduled flights a day. Melbourne Airport is 22 km away and is the second busiest airport in the country. It currently processes 28 million passengers a year, expected to rise to 40 million by 2020 – its annual growth is more than Avalon’s total annual patronage. Mr Woodruff says Melbourne Airport needs a rail line because of traffic congestion at the terminal and on the freeway access roads. "We need rail”, he says, “sooner rather than later. A rail link has always been in the airport master plan. When the Government presses the green button on this one, we are ready to go." Cities without airport rail often think they need it. And yet as others have observed, the political popularity of airport rail “is always several orders of magnitude above its actual ridership”. Because there's so much focus on airport rail in Melbourne, it provides an interesting case study to explore some of the issues. There are a number of problems with a rail line that help explain the cautious approach of successive governments in Victoria. One is the cost. The Herald-Sun reckons an airport line from the CBD to Melbourne Airport would cost as much as $1 billion to construct, but I think they’re dreaming. My admittedly rough and ready estimate based on current project costs is a lot higher. Assuming the same 20 minute travel time (off-peak) and ten minute frequency offered by the existing bus operator, SkyBus, I think a more realistic estimate of the cost of a service along the reservation set aside by the previous government would be in the order of $3 to $4 billion, maybe even $5 billion. Start thinking about a high-speed service and the cost could easily escalate to $10 billion or more. There might be a lower cost option. If the proposed Melbourne Metro rail project goes ahead it would provide increased capacity to run more trains between the CBD and Sunshine. A new line could be run from Sunshine to the airport at a probable cost in the region of $1 to $2 billion. Travel time would be closer to a still-reasonable 30 minutes but that’s the least of the issues. This option’s premised on funding being found for Melbourne Metro - the former government estimated the cost with 8 km of tunnel at circa $5 billion but I expect that’s too low by a considerable margin. Capital cost isn’t the only consideration. The Victorian Government will also be wary of the poor initial financial performance of the airport train services in Sydney and Brisbane. As Sir Rod Eddington says, "Airport railway links are notoriously bad investments and there are plenty of examples of that around the world". The Government would also note that Melbourne Airport already has arguably the best public transport service in Australia. Buses have a 14% mode share, compared to 5% for Brisbane’s Airtrain and 10% for Sydney’s Airport Link. The main bus operator, SkyBus, operates at 10 minute frequencies for close to 24/7, whereas Airtrain offers 30 minute frequencies and ceases operation at 10pm (Sydney has a curfew). The financial risks are minimal with SkyBus because it already covers its capital and operating costs and indeed contributes to the cost of improving the freeway. It also has considerable potential to add capacity, primarily by increasing frequencies. It’s not always as comfortable as a train and trips blow out to 40 minutes in the peak, but it’s effectively costing taxpayers nothing. An airport train would improve peak period travel times and provide greater predictability for travellers going to the CBD (SkyBus can be affected by accidents and breakdowns on the freeway), but the Government knows it wouldn’t provide a permanent solution to the issue of traffic congestion on the freeway. It also knows that, like SkyBus, a train wouldn’t do a lot for the majority of travellers. They’re not going to or from the CBD or to intervening stations, but to dispersed destinations across the metropolitan area. They’re still going to kiss ‘n ride, drive and park, or take a taxi (especially if they're visitors), because it’s still likely to be faster and more convenient in the great majority of cases. If they've got baggage they'll be even less likely to use the train. Nor is the Ballieu Government likely to be persuaded by the fact there’re 12,000 jobs at the airport. That’s less than 1% of all jobs in Melbourne. Airport workers get concession fares on SkyBus and access to the 901 orbital SmartBus which runs at 15 minute frequencies for much of the day (and also connects to Broadmeadows station). Public transport to the airport has deficiencies (particularly the location of the 901’s stop at the airport), but these could be addressed directly for a fraction of the cost and time involved in providing a train. I don’t know if the Victorian Government gives a toss about greenhouse gases, but if it does it’ll note that a train to Melbourne Airport would be one of the most expensive ways of mitigating carbon imaginable. There’s a lot of public concern about the high cost of parking at Melbourne Airport, but the Government will know a train wont solve that problem. It’s caused by anti-competitive practices and they need to be addressed directly. So what it comes down to is essentially this: a lot of travellers already use public transport between the CBD and the airport. The question is: how much is it worth spending to reduce the travel times and improve the predictability of public transport trips made between the CBD and airport, in peak periods? These are primarily business trips and I expect the majority are made by visitors. There’s a more important related question: are there other public transport projects (but it could be any other sort of project) which would provide a greater benefit from the funds than effectively replacing the existing bus service with an airport-CBD rail line? Given the likely cost, I can’t see it’s worth constructing a rail line at this time. It very likely will be at some stage, but I think that’s sometime in the future. SkyBus might not be quite as pleasant as a train but it can be expanded and improved for a lot less than what a train would cost. I think there are other public transport projects that warrant funding ahead of this one. So far as the Herald-Sun’s estimate of $1 billion is concerned, I suspect the Government would be very tempted to proceed with a new line if that’s all it cost. It needs to commit to something substantial in public transport before the next election (Avalon just doesn’t cut it) and, as the Herald-Sun’s survey shows, Melburnians would love airport rail. Trouble is, I reckon the cost would be much higher. Cities don't need rail lines to their airports, they need public transport! The form it takes isn't usually the critical question. Rail isn't necessary unless and until the volume of passengers makes it mandatory because other modes simply can't cope. If there are lower cost options like buses that work, they should be used so that available (public) funding can be applied to other public transport projects that maximise benefits.

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41 thoughts on “Does every city need an airport rail line?

  1. Bucknell David

    As there would only be 7 level crossings to deal with on the Craigieburn line, this would be greatly cheaper than trying to eliminate all the level crossings on the Upfield line.
    A future option, as Melbourne’s level crossings are all systematically removed, would be to connect the airport to both the Craigieburn and Upfield lines, and potentially the Sunshine line, as this would interconnect all three of these lines for commuters, but also would be insentive for more people from these areas to catch the train to the airport rather than drive. Also this would field a better catchment for people who work at the airport, as the train connections would be wider.

  2. Bucknell David

    Wouldn’t it be cheaper to run a (personally) estimated 6km train line from the airport to the Craigieburn line, and then (or prior to) remove the mere 7 levelcrossings along that line, and then it would be very possible to run a far higher frequency of trains along that line. The train to the airport could always be an express train, similar to the express trains that already run the line, so that it stops at North Melbourne, Moonee Ponds, Essendon, Broadmeadows, Airport. Moonee Ponds could be potentially be dropped from the service.

    And in addition this train could be a newly built one that caters for airport travellers, with luggage racks etc, and for this train conductors are reinstated to police the people on board, so that air travellers and airport workers are allowed on and ussual commuters are not.

    Also another potential PT connection to the airport would be to extend the Airport West Tram 5km up Melrose Drive adding yet another public transport link.

    I also believe it would make sense to add a lane each way to the Tullamarine Freeway, in the section that is currently just two lanes each way. This should be changed to 3 lanes each way, but the third lane should be made seperated from the other two, by a concrete crash barrier, so that the left two lanes both terminate at the Airport, and the other centre lane is seperated, and goes onto Sunbry. This would ensure people can drive to Sunbry, without being impacted by the Airport traffic, to the same extent. This may not make a great deal of difference to airport drivers, but would make a world of difference for the people who wish to travel beyond the airport. Also if there were a crash in one of the two seperated sections, it would not effect the other, due to the two being seperated.

    In the long run I would like to see a Maglev style train system built between Victoria’s regional cities, and Melbourne, and the potential Bendigo line could have an add on to the airport, which would give a 10min train service from SXS to Melbourne Airport. (This is a pipe dream however and would probably not be cost effective now or in the future)

  3. michael r james

    Ahem, Alan, re my retort (6:57 pm) to your point about opportunity costs, here is another post on Ben’s site today:

    [Groucho Posted March 3, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    Here’s a novel idea spend the billions on hospitals and education and just let sydney run at capacity.]

  4. michael r james

    Gavin, it is because commercial interests do not want the Tulla rail.

    On the issue of relieving congestion as discussed in the comment thread, or at least relieving the problem caused by the congestion, here is a relevant observation by Ben Sandilands on his blog yesterday: (comment on the report on Sydney’s airport’s needs):

    [Or in blunter language, the timetable should be one that suits airport users, not the shareholders who own Sydney Airport.

    It predicts that within a short period Sydney Airport will be patently unworkable because of access congestion as well as problems with the terminals, taxiways and other airline facilities within the airport site.

    It recommends immediately lifting the surcharge for using the Airport Rail link stations at the International and Domestic sides of the airport to bring fares to them in line with normal city rail fares, not just to benefit travellers but allow more than 20,000 airline employees to have a cheap alternative to driving to work and adding to traffic gridlock at the airport.]

  5. Gavin Moodie

    Thanx to Alan for his article and to Crikey’s well informed posters for answering many of my questions and informing me generally about the prospects of a train to Tulla.

    I still don’t understand why the current Victorian Government thinks a train to Avalon would be good. Perhaps it would incidentally serve the fast expanding housing estates en route. Perhaps its just relatively cheap and easy.

  6. Alan Davies

    #35 Gavin Gatenby: Er…which parts exactly “are ill-informed cobblers”? I’d like to know.

  7. Gavin Gatenby

    This article is a load of ill-informed cobblers.

    Sydney’s airport rail line, a very difficult tunnelled project 8km long cost $1bn (opened in time for the 2000 Olympics). $100m per km for double-track suburban rail tunnel has remained the going rate for many years with cheaper per-km rates due to greater engineering efficiency compensating for inflation. The problem with the Sydney’s ARL was that the government put in $800m and the private sector about $200m and the private sector owned the stations. They put on a massive surcharge to (currently $11.80 at the two airport stations) to get into the stations before you paid the train fare. This crippled patronage. Just before the last state election Labor reached a deal whereby the government pays the surcharge at the two non-airport stations ($2.50). Patronage was expected to rise 17% but it went up 70%. If the surcharge was lifted at the two airport stations patronage is expected to increase way beyond that. The lesson is that PPPs are a disaster.

    Gavin Gatenby
    Convenor, EcoTransit Sydney

  8. Sancho

    I’ll just reiterate what others have said about Skybus: it’s a standard bus that costs four times the standard fare price and blasts passengers with advertising the whole way.


  9. Moving to Paraguay

    I agree completely with Wombat. You can’t say that Skybus is public transport. The advertising is so insistent, they should pay passengers to take the bus. I pay three times the fare for a taxi on the same route, just to do without the invasion of my brain space.

  10. Jackson Harding

    @Herceg shayne Have you tried both the Picadilly Line and Heathrow Express? The later is vastly superior and worth every cent, sorry penny, of the more expensive fare. Fast, clean, reliable, comfortable, and deposits you at Paddington from where you can get the tube or a cab to other London destinations. The Tube is is hot, crowded, noisy, almost impossible to get a seat and unreliable. A cab from Heathrow costs the national debt of a small African nation, far better to be whisked to Paddington on HX and then a short, affordable cab fare to your final destination.

  11. Alan Davies

    #29 michael r james: I agree with you about taxing cars entering the airport and have said so before. BTW, I think one reason governments build roads but not rail is because the latter requires an ongoing cash subsidy from the budget. That’s why the goal should be to remove subsidies from transport systems and instead subsidise (deserving) travellers.

    #30 Alexander Waters: I think politicians would love to build the airport rail line because everybody wants it – in fact I’m amazed they’ve had the fortitude to resist! The problem is that it’s so expensive that the costs exceed the benefits. And for a lot of people the main benefit is having a train instead of a bus – that’d be nice but the key objective should be to have public transport, not die in a ditch about whether it’s bus or train. I can’t give you a year, but the decision on airport rail will almost certainly be decided on political grounds, which means it’ll be before it can be justified on economic and social grounds. Vic Govt’s doing another study now, so that’ll bring new data to the table.

  12. Alexander Waters

    Alan, I’m curious. You’ve alluded that an Airport line isn’t viable now but that it will be at some point in the future.

    When? and which route should be used at vague point in the future? The then transport minister said in 2002 that an airport line should be built 10 years from then ie 2012. That anniversary came and went a few days ago.

    My suspicion is that some transport experts are being coy about specifying a date when the airport line should be built in the hope that people will just forget about it and be content with yet more congestion-inducing freeways each costing several billion dollars.

    Patronage has passed 28 million and will grow by 1.5m p.a. according to the CEO’s comments, with average daily users of the Tulla Freeway rising from 28,000 to 40,000 by 2020. I just don’t see how it’s helping the transport network to keep delaying this project decade after decade when the traffic that the airport generates is so obviously going to continue swelling.

  13. michael r james

    Incidentally, congestion–anywhere really but especially to airports–is undesirable. That is why, when a good pax rail link is available then private cars should be taxed heavily upon entry to the airport zone. Thus will the roads be prioritized for transport and utilities etc. And I don’t mean a de facto tax via car parking charges because that is simply for private profit of the airport owners.

  14. michael r james

    Alan, I will agree with the well-known phenomenon: that the only thing that stops people using roads unnecessarily is in fact congestion.
    But to imagine that airports with 50-80 million (eventually more for the new Asian ones) can be adequately served by roads ONLY is simply untenable. It is hiding one’s head in the sand. As I think is obvious from the US where the road ethos dominates yet they still build rail to their major airports.
    Your argument of opportunity cost etc. is a distraction because political allocation of spending simply doesn’t work like that. (eg. the public would probably spend 100% of gov revenue on hospitals–certainly the budget is trending that direction; if opportunity cost was ever applied we would spend much more on preventative healthcare instead of the derisory amounts we actually do. And you and I know–even if Joe Public doesn’t–that we could spend our GDP on healthcare and we would still not achieve best health.). Also your argument is similar to the Australian habit of planning large new connurbations, but deliberately not building a rail link until the population numbers “justify” it. Of course entire regions grow over decades into a car-dominated lifestyle and the railway never arrives. The roads continue to absorb any “spare” money and people waste hours every day driving here there and everywhere. (The Sandgate railway in Brisbane has been promised in every state election since the 1930s yet they found hundreds of millions to double the Hornibrook bridge and the highways leading to those bayside suburbs–but they still are congested of course. Railway is promised in the Plan for….beginning in 2026.) And of course, where is the opportunity cost argument today with respect to Tullamarine, when it should have been built at the same time as the airport and its road infrastructure when it would have cost an awful lot less.

    The real argument has to be, roads or public transit. We’ve already got tons of roads–and very expensive modern ones to most airports. Building more or upgrading them endlessly will not do whatever is claimed.

  15. Alan Davies

    #26 michael r james:

    Rail won’t solve traffic traffic congestion permanently any more than a new freeway will. But as I say in the post, a rail line would almost certainly provide faster speeds and greater predictability in the peaks for trips between the airport and CBD than road-based public transport like SkyBus.

    The question though, given the scale of costs involved, is whether or not that benefit is worth the outlay. The related question is opportunity cost: is there something else the money could be used for that would give a higher return to the community?

    In the case of Melbourne, I say there are better ways, at this time, the money could be spent. I nominate investing in middle and outer suburban public transport (to create a network as explained here) as one.

  16. michael r james

    As Erin Redmond (at 3:36 pm) says, the real reason why all major cities I know of have dedicated rail lines is to reduce road congestion. Using buses to airports always irritates me because you simply do not know how reliable it will be.

    I also do not accept Alan’s cost argument. As others have pointed out, the serious world cities have public-funded rail. (One exception is Heathrow but neither it nor the UK should be used by any sane person as a model for transport infrastructure! Case closed on that please.) Tokyo is also something of an exception because of its distance and the horrific politics of driving that line thru. But road congestion costs real money–not least for example, in the uncertainty and thus extra time one has to allow to get to the airport. Then of course the cost of building or widening roads is horrendous–and worse–never, NEVER, solves the congestion problem. (The suggestion of a bus-only lane is not on; you just need one political leader to get in power, like Campbell Newman, who immediately removed several bus lanes on several major roads into Brisbane.)

    So it costs money but governments need to choose: spend it on the non-solution of ever more roads or on final solution of rail. Even NYC and San Francisco, Boston (and LAX if the Orange line lightrail extension counts) have publically funded rail. True, SF took 3 decades to push BART thru to the airport due to local political opposition (finally the car congestion on the peninsula overcame objections). NYC recently built a new rail shuttle which costs a lot more than previously, however one can still take a bus shuttle to the A line subway and go all the way into lower Manhattan or up past Harlem to Columbia U for $1.50 (might be closer to $2 today?).

    As to the issues of sharing with Metro passengers, it simply needs to be planned for. The Paris RER lines that go to both airports are bigger than Metro lightrail so they cope with both (and with provision for luggage both above all seats and in area near doors)–not to say they still do not get crowded on the route into Paris at times, but it still copes. Only once in the ten years I lived in Paris (and the 30 years I have been going there) have I ever taken the bus–and never again; it took forever and dumped me somewhere inconvenient; the RER is incredibly reliable and predictable and connects directly to the Paris Metro (most tourists will not realize it is any different). The RER lines were planned in the 60s/70s and work superbly–the lines have fewer stops further apart so they travel much faster than Metro; some are now double-decker to move very large numbers.

    We all know what the Australian problem is: vested interests in the airport ownership monopoly and their determination to make windfall profits on everything including parking. In the US all major airports remain in public hands and parking charges are regulated–and thus reasonable. (Again we have followed the stupid UK route and privatized as a monopoly like the Heathrow+Stansted+Gatwick monopoly was until recently–finally broken up after 25 years of dysfunction.)

  17. michael r james

    @Holden Back at 5:07 pm

    I think you are a tad confused. The Express is on its own tracks–these were always present (perhaps was an old freight line) and were disused for decades or maybe half a century until reactivated (in 90s? isn’t it run by Virgin?).
    But you could always and still can take the Underground line, at lower cost and comparable fares to commuters–which is to say, this is London so still expensive but less than the Express. The problem with the Underground line is that 1. it is very slow all the way into central London because it stops at all stations and 2. has zero provision for travellers (no luggage racks) and 3. gets very crowded with commuters.

  18. Wombat

    Alan, I caught the SkyBus the other day and I’ve sworn I’ll never do it again.

    The bus was on time, clean, warm, comfortable, and arrived quickly at Spencer St station.

    The reason I’ll never do it again? There is a speaker every three feet on the bus blaring advertisements at you at full volume for the entire trip. Screaming ads at 6am are not pleasant. Particularly when some moron keeps telling you to check out the cricket whilst you are in Melbourne, and you’re already shitty because the cricket isn’t on that weekend.

  19. Erin Redmond

    Another point which is no one else seems to have raised, in favor of a rail line, is the problems with congestion getting into Tullamarine airport- I have waited 40 minutes to get off freeway and into airport- it gets worse every time- and what if there is a disaster on the freeway and traffic cannot get through to airport! Neither then can taxis or buses- there is only one road in and out of Tullamarine. It is unacceptable that the second busiest airport in Australia does not have a rail link or other non road link.

  20. Alan Davies

    #21 Russ: Good points.

  21. Russ

    Alan, almost every argument you make regarding the Upfield line can be summarised by saying that “the Upfield line is unsuitable for an airport extension because it doesn’t conform to the standards of service commuters require”. As someone who has used the line from time to time, I’d agree that, no, it doesn’t, but also argue that that is the problem.

    There is a destructive tendency for people to propose dedicated infrastructure for particular trips (Tullamarine, Avalon, Monash) because the existing network isn’t very good. Dedicated infrastructure that sits outside the network just exacerbates this problem by pulling high value trips out of the system. The solution should be to fix the network.

    Upfield has a parallel tram line that runs on 5min frequencies – it doesn’t need 800m stop spacing. If every stop but Flemington Bridge, Brunswick, Coburg and Gowrie was closed it could make the airport trip in 20min. Residents would trade-off walking convenience (or a longer car-trip to the station) for a faster commute and quadruple the frequency.

    Not that it would be cheap. Grade separation normally bridges or tunnels through the contours of the landscape. The Upfield line is near-enough to dead flat though; given the frequency of roads being crossed, the only real solution is to either extend the cutting from Royal Park for 5km north, or to build a raised line. The latter is less inconvenient to operation and would allow the area underneath to be used for an improved bike-trail/park (or a faster light-rail line), but comes with noise issues. Also, a lot of the cost of grade separations are stations which generally need to be rebuilt. If only two stations need rebuilding instead of six then that is a bit cheaper.

  22. Alan Davies

    Issues with Upfield option:

    Gowrie to SXS (direct) is already 29 minutes.

    Ten minute frequencies means 12 trains per hour (note Sydney Airport has 16 per hour between 7am and 9am). That’s a lot of down time for level crossings.

    I think you’d be looking at as many as ten separations, and that’s not even allowing for local political pressure (can’t just separate three – they’d be hopelessly congested).

    The Committee for Melbourne estimates an average construction cost of $100 million per separation but that’s across all Melbourne – these are mainly in established areas, so the average could be considerably higher.

    The economic cost of closing major roads like Bell and Brunswick while the separations were done would be pretty hefty too (although necessary anyway independent of any airport train).

    If airport passengers require special carriages with baggage provision that separate them from commuters, might need to go to nine carriage trains. That could involve more expense in lengthening platforms.

    After all that, you’ve still got to run a spur line across to the airport with a few grade separations of its own, plus build the airport terminal. There might be consequential improvements required at SXS to handle the increased numbers, too.

  23. Alexander Waters

    Agree with the above, grade separation reduces traffic back-log which justifies closing some cross-roads.

    Also, we’re being a bit nit-picky by avoiding rerouting of the Upfield line to the Airport because there are level crossings on the Upfield line. There are 170 odd across the Melbourne’s rail network – meaning its a systemic rather than a local problem that should be dealt with at the appropriate scale.

    Grade separations shouldn’t be some special, expensive treat for the public transport network – it should be taken as a given that they will be closed one by one within 10 years – subject to priority in the budget. Its just that we forgot to invest in public transport for about 70 years till the start of the recent patronage boom and we’re playing catch up.

    According to the audit released by the Department of Transport today, spending on public transport will increase from $1 billion a year previously to $3 billion a year over the next 10 years ($30 billion budget for this decade).

    Now surely, surely, there is room in that massive budget for a relatively small and cheap 10 kilometre extension of an existing railway to finally give the city a connection to its airport?

    I mean the Regional Rail Link currently under construction is over 5 times as long and costs between $5b to $6 billion. Based on slightly higher cost due to building in some (but not very) built up areas, I’d say at most such a 10km extension would cost $2 billion. Or only 1 in 15 dollars spent on PT over the next 10 years.

  24. Tom the first and best

    I count 12 now. It was even higher before the 1997 closure and automation of level crossings when there were said to be 11 level crossing in a mile beyond Park St.

    Sorry I should have been clearer. You would likely get change from $200,000,000 if you were grade-separating those 3 major Rd crossing.

    I would say that the number of crossings actually reduces the need for grade separation because it means the traffic is less concentrated at the level crossings meaning shorter lines of traffic and thus less delay.

  25. Alan Davies

    #15 Tom the first and best:

    I recall reading somewhere there are 14 level crossings from Bell St to Park St. I also know that east-west road movements in the inner north are severely constrained – it’s not feasible to just close crossings, they need to be grade-separated.

  26. Holden Back

    Isn’t the question better asked as: What else can a line that services Tullamarine Airport do? Looking at map of the Melbourne rail network that’s an obvious gap, (as are the suburbs between the Hurstbridge and Lilydale lines), that could do with rail infrstructure.

    The Heathrow Express is a private;y run service, not a separate dedicated line, as was made plain to me on a weekend of extensive Olympic trackwork in London recently. It’s a matter of dedicated rolling stock and express service: something which would make the Sydney airport experience more pleasant and justify the additional ticket cost. If it’s going to cost you four times as much as the person next to you on the East Hills or Macarthur line to get off at the airport, you should have space for your luggage and get a seat, or onto the train even at rush hour.

    There is good reason to do this: tourists are vulnerable and an easy target for pick pockets, especially if they’ve just got off a long-haul flight.

  27. Tom the first and best

    The Bolte Government tried to legislate to build a railway to the airport (from Broadmeadows) in 1965 but was blocked in The Legislative Council.

    One option to allow an airport line via Broadmedows would be to divert the Cragieburn and Shepparton lines via the Upfield line.

    Of the level crossings on the Upfield line only Brunswick Rd, Bell St and Camp Rd are major roads and it should be possible to eliminate the three of them for under $200,000,000.

  28. Alan Davies

    #13 in the real world Meanwhile:

    “If airport trains (and buses) were part of the rest of the public transport network and not charging premium fares then more people would use them”.

    I think that’s right. But if they had to be financed by the public sector they wouldn’t have been built. There are more pressing needs for scarce public transport spending.

  29. in the real world Meanwhile

    There was a very simple reason for the poor initial financial performance of the Sydney and Brisbane airport lines. They are privately owned and run for profit. The fares are $15.40 one way in Sydney and $15.50 one way in Brisbane. The Melbourne Skybus charges even more, $17 one way. But in Adelaide you can get a regular Adelaide Metro bus to the airport for just $4.70. On the Gold Coast you can catch a regular public transport bus from the airport to Surfers Paradise for just $4.35. If airport trains (and buses) were part of the rest of the public transport network and not charging premium fares then more people would use them. This includes people who work at the airport.

  30. CID

    Don’t know about Melbourne, but in Sydney the cost to use the train to the airport is usury. That’s probably only because the station is privately owned, but it costs $3.40 to go from Central to one station before the airport. Costs the same to one stop after. Get off at the airport and it’s $15.40. And with both buses or trains, you’re getting on a regular commuter service – there’s zero provision for all those people with all that luggage. Comparatively it’s still pretty cheap, that’s about 30 minutes parking or a 2km cab ride, but it just smacks of gouging.

    So the political popularity is there, and I suspect the public popularity is there, but by the time it gets put into practice the shine is well and truly taken off it. Most of us are sick of getting gouged at every opportunity just because it’s the airport.

  31. Peter Ormonde

    How do planners make plans in these “uncertain times”? How much public money should we sink into airports when both the anticipated volumes of traffic are so uncertain? Oil prices, high dollar values, the interweb and NBN … even the viability of airlines is in medium to long term doubt.

    Too risky for public money. Let our entrepreneurial classes take up the challenge of optimism… let them sink their stakes into a transport connection for the businessmen and women, the tourists and the jet-setters to speed their way in to Collins Street.

    I think such irrational speculation is rightly the province of the private pocket.

    I reckon on that basis we’ll be looking at a huge fleet of rickshaws with the rickshaw wallahs bought in from Kolkata on skilled entry visas. Maybe sedan chairs for first class.

  32. Chris

    The trouble with a lot of new airport rail projects is that they are at least partially privately funded – someone wants to make money out of it. Case in point is Brisbane. Infrequent service, which simply doesn’t run on a Sunday evening. For the cost of two tickets to the CBD you can get a taxi directly to where you want to go. Those are the two simple reasons it doesn’t get the patronage.

    As Herceg pointed out, all the places I’ve travelled which have integrated the airport into the public transport system have worked e.g. Zürich, Hamburg, Tokyo, Frankfurt, Bale etc Where there has been an expensive “express” option, it hasn’t been heavily used. Tokyo again, Heathrow, Brisbane, etc. Whether it is rail or bus it doesn’t matter, the key to success is cheap and often, and don’t make the airport the final stop.

  33. Johnfromplanetearth

    It’s all too late, the rail line should’ve been built at the same time the Tullamarine Freeway was constructed back in the 60’s. It could easily have been done back then as the area just after Flemington Bridge where the Freeway begins was swamp like at the time. It won’t be long before residents in the ever increasing housing estates now past Gladstone Park and the expanding Keilor area will be complaining about airport noise!
    A rail line is now out of the question, the skybus does just fine!

  34. Alan Davies

    AIUI, a key problem with the Upfield line is the large number of level crossings, which limits frequency. These could be addressed but that would add significantly to costs.

  35. Alexander Waters

    The Craigieburn line is very crowded already. Creating an Airport spur-line or running Craigieburn-Broadmeadows as a shuttle service would be politically unpopular and would unnecessarily worsen crowd-flows at stations in that area.

    The Upfield line however is practically empty all day and only runs at 20 minute frequencies in the peak hour because most people use the Sydney Road tram that runs parallel to the railway.

    To me, the lack of crowds on an existing rail line fairly close to the Airport presents the perfect opportunity to extend it westwards and provide the connection that even the CEO of the airport (remember this is an organization that earns 20% of its profits from car parking!) says we need.

  36. MDMConnell

    Is the branch line from Craigieburn line not an option any more?

    That would involve a fairly direct route from just north of Broadmeadows, primarily above ground, and with little obstruction since its route runs directly under the east-west flight path. This has the advantage of connecting to the main Metro system so it doesn’t become a City-Airport Only white elephant, ands it can serve important centres like Broadmeadows, Essendon, Flemington, plus link to the city and inner suburbs easily.

    To be competitive, it would probably need to run express with stops only at major stations, and this would require some upgrade of the existing line. But surely a few km of mostly above-ground track plus some well targeted expansion of capacity wouldn’t be prohibitively expensive?

  37. Alexander Waters

    Alan, what is your view on extending the Upfield line west through Broadmeadows to the Airport?

    At only 10km distance, and using existing underutilized inner-city capacity, a rerouting of the Upfield line would be a much cheaper way of getting rail to the airport than an entirely new 22km~ line.

  38. Alan Davies

    #2 RED_Near the Beach:

    Actually that 14% figure is for all buses, I now realise. Don’t want to give the wrong impression, so have amended. Thanks.

  39. Herceg shayne

    It’s important which kind of rail service a city has to its airport that makes the difference to its success, express Vs Metro.
    Example: London, all its airports have a dedicated express rail service, but they are expensive, so you’ll often see long queues for the airport buses which are slower but much cheaper. As for Heathrow it has the Heathrow Express and the Piccadilly metro line, the express train is three times faster over the same distance but five times more expensive than the metropolitan service. But it is the Metro service which carries by far the greater number of passengers to Heathrow while the express prices itself out of the market trying to cover its costs.
    Any line to Melbourne airport should be; either part of the metropolitan train system or part of the Melbourne fare system if its to compete with the bus and car and other airport’s.

  40. RED_Near the Beach

    There’s two relatively cheaper options:
    – Widen Tullamarine Freeway so that it has a dedicated bus lane in each direction. This could be used by all forms of public transport and would enable the Skybus service to be expanded.
    – Expand the network of suburban airport shuttles – e.g. ‘Airport Bus Southern Suburbs’. Have these stop at major train stations and bus interchanges so that they are more accessible. Most importantly, expand their frequency. They stop outside the terminals and serve many parts of the urban area and are actually easier than catching the train into the city and then Skybus out again.

    Alan, if you added in the suburban shuttles to the PT figures I think you’d find buses have an even higher share of transport mode to the Airport.

  41. David Burns

    I laughed at the Tullamarine CEO complaining that the rail line to Avalon would give them a ‘competitive advantage’. Of course govt paying for something that benefits your asset provides an advantage!
    If this improved customer access is so useful / such an advantage to Tullarmarine, a) why aren’t they paying for a link themselves, and getting govt to facilliate land acquisition, and b) why do they charge a ‘user fee’ to public transport close to the terminal?

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