Federal and Victorian governments sign off on Melbourne Airport rail link

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Melbourne Airport could be linked to the city by rail by 2031. (Victorian government)

The Commonwealth and Victorian governments have signed off on the building of a rail link to Melbourne Tullamarine Airport.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews signed a Heads of Agreement on the Melbourne Airport Rail Link project on Wednesday.

Under the agreement, both Victoria and the federal government have each committed $5 billion in funding to build the rail link from the Melbourne CBD to the airport.

The total cost of the project was estimated to be between $8 billion and $13 billion, the Prime Minister and Premier said in a joint statement, with construction due to begin in 2022 and take nine years to complete.

A project team would be set up to build a business case for the rail link. There would also be a reference group comprising community, industry and local government representatives to provide guidance and feedback to the project team.

Further, the joint statement said planning and development of the business case was already underway. Rail Projects Victoria had engaged expert technical and commercial advisers for the project, while ecological, traffic and geotechnical investigations have begun.

Soil samples being collected for the Melbourne Airport rail link project. (Victorian government)

“The business case will be delivered by 2020 and will assess station and procurement options, value capture and creation opportunities, and economic analysis of the recommended solution,” the statement said.

Previously, the state government stated its preferred route was from Southern Cross Station to Tullamarine via a new rail hub in Sunshine, which would provide greater access to the airport for regional travellers.

This would connect regional and metropolitan train lines, including the city’s proposed Metro Tunnel project, to the new airport link.

In addition to new train tracks to support the airport rail link, the 27km route would also involve the use of tunnels to protect existing homes and businesses.

“The Melbourne Airport Rail Link has been talked about for far too long – we’re doing the detailed planning and development work to make it a reality,” Premier Andrews said.

“By choosing the Sunshine route, we are ensuring all Victorians can benefit from the rail link, including people living in Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo. As we complete the business case, we’re also doing the work needed to deliver fast rail to the regions.”

A artist's impression of the proposed Sunshine rail hub. (Victorian government)

A artist’s impression of the proposed Sunshine rail hub. (Victorian government)

The 2018/19 federal budget handed down in May noted the Commonwealth planned to fund the establishment of a train link between the Melbourne CBD and Tullamarine airport “up to $5 billion”.

However, there was no budget allocation committed for the next four years. Instead, the budget papers noted specific funding arrangements, including an option for equity investment, would be settled at a later date and with an equivalent contribution to be provided by the Victorian Government.

In September 2018, a private consortium made a public pitch to build the proposed rail link and pledged to contribute $5 billion to the project, matching the funding commitments of both the Victorian and federal governments.

The consortium comprised fund manager IFM Investors, Melbourne Airport, Metro Trains Australia (the operator of Melbourne’s metropolitan rail network) and Southern Cross Station, which is owned, operated and maintained by IFM under a public-private partnership with the Victorian government.

Its “Super Train” proposal had services departing Southern Cross Station every 10 minutes during peak times and operating 24 hours a day. (Melbourne Airport does not have a curfew so flights depart and arrive at all hours.)

One-way tickets would be “less than $20 in today’s prices”.

Travel time from the proposed new underground rail station at the airport to the city would be 20 minutes.

The AirRail consortium said it would be ready to start work by 2020, two years earlier than currently planned.

An illustration of the proposed Melbourne airport rail link route from AirRail's YouTube video. (AirRail)

An illustration of the proposed Melbourne airport rail link route from a YouTube video from the AirRail consortium bidding to build the rail link. (AirRail)

On Wednesday, the Prime Minister and Premier’s statement said early market engagement on the airport rail link had attached more than 100 submissions from local and global organisations. It said further market sounding would be undertaken to assess equity partners, private sector involvement, financing arrangements and other matters.

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VIDEO: A look at the rail route from the Melbourne CBD to Tullamarine airport from the Victorian government’s Rail Projects Victoria YouTube channel.