Melbourne Airport is going to be as busy as Heathrow, so why the argument about one train line?

COMMENT: Good public access for Melbourne Airport and others like it depends on not fixating on one solution, like a single rail line, but instead developing multiple options integrated with the city’s needs, Ian Woodcock writes.

Public discussion of rail links to airports has been narrowly focused on the idea of a single line and where to run it. In Melbourne, the politics of this debate has so far prevented a railway from being built, because it is not possible for one line to meet all of the landside access needs of the airport.
The issue of rail access for a new western Sydney airport has also not been resolved.

If we want anything to happen at all, we must move beyond barracking for one or other route. We have to recognise the need for multiple lines to serve everyone’s needs.

If we look further afield, of the world’s top 20 airports, 16 have rail access, 14 have integrated metros (i.e. part of the commuter rail network) and four have dedicated express lines as well as integrated metro lines (London Heathrow, Tokyo Haneda, Shanghai Pudong and Bangkok Suvarnabhumi).

In terms of passenger demand, Shanghai Pudong and Bangkok Suvarnabhumi were comparable in 2012 with where Melbourne will be in 2019. London and Bangkok have populations of around 8 million, have other airports and have much greater numbers of passengers transferring within them than Melbourne Airport, but the most salient comparison is the means of landslide access.

We’ll look more closely at Heathrow, one of the more comparable airports to Melbourne, later in this article.

The political divide on a rail link

The history of planning for a Melbourne Airport rail link has been dogged by party-political differences focused on the idea of a single railway and the question of its route out to Tullamarine. Traditionally, the Coalition parties have favoured the express proposals, while the Labor Party has preferred alignments that benefit local commuters.

This difference and the impossibility of resolving it with a single line would be one of the reasons we have so far not gone to the bother of actually building anything. It has also distracted attention from more incremental ways to improve landside access to the airport beyond the SkyBus. Its market is similar to the main targets of the express route proponents.

The most recent express proposal is the AirTrain by the highly respected Rail Futures Institute (RFI). It’s part of a bold plan to separate Victorian regional services from the metropolitan commuter network. This would eventually provide statewide fast rail services, including a 15-minute ride between the airport and Southern Cross Station in the city centre.

The benefits of and urgent need for RFI’s AirTrain proposal are clear. But it still won’t solve all of Melbourne Airport’s landside access demands, nor will it have the city-shaping potential in the northwest region between Tullamarine and the CBD that’s driving the ideas for an airport metro service.

Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull’s embrace of these ideas is a welcome change from his side of politics, as is Premier Daniel Andrews’ apparent support for RFI’s proposal. These are amusing reversals of political positions on airport access, but the community should not be swayed by the potential for wedging.

We can learn from Heathrow

To understand our predicament of airport access, comparisons with London’s Heathrow are useful. Many Australians know this airport and its landside access demands are far more similar to those of Melbourne Airport than may be imagined.

The Piccadilly Tube line was extended to Heathrow in 1977. That was a decade before it was serving over 30 million passengers comparable to what Melbourne airport was serving in 2013.

In 1998, Heathrow added a 15-minute express rail line to Paddington Station, when its landside access needs were about 40 million. That’s the demand Melbourne Airport is projected to hit in 2019. When London’s Elizabeth line (formerly CrossRail) opens next year, it will connect Heathrow to a major east-west line similar to the Melbourne Metro.

In 2028, Melbourne Airport is projected to hit the same level of landside access demand as Heathrow experienced in 2017. Currently, 40% of passengers using Heathrow do so via public transport – 27% via rail, 13% via bus or coach. And 35% of airport staff use public transport, and this is rising.

Heathrow has 13 public bus lines, 27 coach services and three railway services – the stopping-all-stations commuter service on the Piccadilly line and two levels of express service at premium ticket prices on regional railways (which will be subsumed by CrossRail).

By comparison, even though it is one of the world’s busiest, Melbourne Airport has a mere four public buses, some regional coaches and private express bus services. As a result, 86% of access is by car, including 17% by taxi or limo. SkyBus would take the lion’s share of the 14% bus/coach access.

What do these comparisons tell us?

These comparisons show how much more can be done to improve public transport access to Melbourne Airport, in the short, medium and long term. Melbourne Airport needs express as well as commuter rail access, but it needs more than this.

A wider spread of frequent public buses would be easy to implement. Extending the 59 tram service by 7km from Airport West would also be relatively quick and easy. Light rail lines to the airport from La Trobe University and Deer Park would provide much-needed connections to the main commuter rail system in parts of the metropolitan area where public transport is far worse than average.

A genuine commuter metro to the airport would not try to be an express. It would have stations that connect the major and emerging employment centres, such as Airport West, Essendon Fields, Niddrie, Highpoint, Footscray Hospital and Victoria University, and heavy rail stations at Arden and North Melbourne, before connecting with Southern Cross and then Bourke Street, Parliament Station and on to those eastern suburbs where metro services have long been planned.

Such a line would help with the redevelopment of Commonwealth land in Maribyrnong. In fact, without it, redevelopment would not be viable.

The politics of airport access need to be shifted away from focusing on whether one rail route is better than another to the need for a comprehensive transport plan integrated with land use that shows how we can shape our city and our state for a better future.


Ian Woodcock is Lecturer, School of Global, Urban & Social Studies, RMIT University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.

Port of Townsville. Photo: Chris Mackey

Demand doesn’t justify Townsville freight project: Queensland

Queensland wants the Federal Government to redirect funding for the Townsville Eastern Access Rail Corridor to other local projects, after a business case found demand would not justify the cost to build the freight rail link.

Building Queensland – the state’s infrastructure body – released its business case for the TEARC project on April 19. The proposed 8.3-kilometre TEARC route will link Cluden, on the North Coast Line, directly to the existing Eastern Access Corridor near the Port of Townsville.

While the freight line was found to be strategically important to the future development of the Port of Townsville, the business case found demand doesn’t support the line’s construction at this time.

The state says it will protect the TEARC corridor for the future development of the line, but wants to make sure the Federal Government still spends the $250 million it has committed to the Townsville City Deal – for which TEARC was supposed to be a key component.

Queensland transport minister Mark Bailey said the state wants funding to support the growth of the Port of Townsville, including funding for a channel widening project.

“The Turnbull Government said it would fund the Port of Townsville’s expansion through the NAIF, but that’s an insult to the people of Townsville,” Bailey said.

“With just one project having received NAIF funding in the country so far over three years and Senator Canavan recently admitting it has been an abject failure, we call on the Turnbull Government to put the money it has aside for TEARC directly into the Port where the most value lies for jobs in Townsville.”

Federal transport and infrastructure minister Michael McCormack said it was disappointing the state’s business case did not justify building the line at the moment, saying the Federal Government would “thoroughly review” the document.

“We want to leave no stone unturned in determining if the TEARC project can be viable,” McCormack said.

“Our commitment is to invest more than $250 million in Townsville under the Townsville City Deal, and we stand by that commitment.”

Bailey said it was important the preferred alignment for the TEARC was preserved to ensure the corridor was available when required. He urged the Turnbull Government to contribute funding to support that happening.

“This will include acquiring land and gazetting the corridor, as well as preparing an Environmental Impact Assessment for the project,” he said.

“We also urge the Federal Government to join with us in committing funding to construction of intermodal rail facilities at the port of Townsville which would provide an immediate option for modal shift of product transported in half-height containers from road to rail.”

V/Line train going through level crossing. Photo:

Vic regional passengers receive mobile coverage boost

Almost a quarter of V/Line’s Vlocity train fleet have now been fitted with signal boosters, as part of the Victorian government’s program to improve mobile phone coverage on regional passenger services.

The $18 million project will eventually see the in-train mobile signal repeaters installed on the entire Vlocity fleet and 35 new mobile towers constructed along the Traralgon, Geelong, Bendigo, Seymour and Ballarat lines by the end of 2018.

“Better mobile coverage on these rail lines is part of our effort to connect regional Victoria and remove the digital divide between those living in Melbourne and those living in our regions,” state regional development minister Jaala Pulford said.

The program is being delivered in partnership with the providers Telstra, Optus and Vodafone.

The in-train signal boosters improve the signal received by devices inside the train from outside mobile towers. Last year’s pilot program reportedly demonstrated the technology’s capacity to markedly improve mobile coverage from less than 50 per cent to almost full coverage.

While these mobile signal repeaters are already a feature of 30 European rail lines, Victoria’s will be the first to receive upgrades of this kind in Australia.

The Victorian government hopes that the project, once completed, will provide a boost to productivity by allowing passengers to get more work done while travelling on trains, and estimates that a further $20 million could be delivered to the Victorian economy every year.

“We’re getting on with the job of delivering the mobile coverage that our regional rail passengers deserve,” state innovation and digital economy minister Stephen Dalidakis said.

“Whether passengers want to do business, browse social media or call their loved ones to tell them they’re on the way home, this project will ensure regional passengers are connected.”

Risk boss questions methods as Sydney Light Rail case hits court

Aecom’s global chief risk officer feels the NSW and Victorian governments have grown too fond of lumping their private sector partners with the bulk of the risk in major infrastructure projects, and says a shared risk model is the most constructive option for the sector moving forward.

Aecom risk boss Regis Damour reportedly spoke with the Australian Financial Review over the weekend, days after Spanish infrastructure firm Acciona filed a case in the NSW Supreme Court claiming it is owed more than $1 billion in extra fees by the State Government, for unexpected extra work done on the CBD and South East Light Rail project.

The Spanish firm’s lawsuit alleges the State Government of “misleading or deceptive” conduct.

Acciona claims it was given inconsistent information on how Ausgrid’s existing underground cables would be handled. The firm told the court last week it was told one thing by Transport for NSW, and another thing by Ausgrid a few months later. This difference created “unknown risk of cost and delay,” according to Acciona, particularly through the CBD, where the firm says there are at least 100 “clear conflict[s]” between the light rail construction and the Ausgrid network.

The Supreme Court gave the State Government until May 23 to respond to Acciona’s filing.

But Aecom’s Damour says the case is an example of Australian governments’ growing tendency to take an “adversarial” approach to managing infrastructure contracts.

“The current model is not in the best interests of the taxpayers,” Damour was quoted by AFR on Sunday. “When you end up with projects with a billion dollar claim, how can that be good for anybody? An adversarial-type approach is always making only lawyers rich.”

Damour reportedly singled out the NSW and Victorian governments as being overly eager to push risk onto their private partners.

“Nobody is going to convince me that using an adversarial model with full risk transfer can be the right approach because nobody has any clue what’s underground,” he was quoted.

“There are certain risks that the authorities can control, they need to do more homework on existing utilities.”

Melbourne tram. Photo State Government Victoria

New tram line planned for Melbourne’s south-east

The Andrews Government has announced plans for a new tram line to connect Caulfield and Rowville in south-east Melbourne.

Premier Daniel Andrews on Tuesday said $3 million would be in the FY19 Victorian Budget for design and planning works to examine alignments, park and ride options, stop locations, cost and travel time benefits.

The premier said the proposed route would provide a fast, alternative transport option for thousands of Victorians who travel to the area to work, study and shop, and said the line would make it easier to access the rail interchange at Caulfield Station.

Stage one of the proposed line would link Caulfield Station to Monash University’s Clayton campus via Chadstone Shopping Centre, then to Rowville via Waverley Park.

Detailed planning is now underway on the proposed corridor, which would begin near Caulfield Station, stop at Chadstone Shopping Centre and finish near the intersection of Blackburn and Wellington Roads, then extend to Rowville.

Andrews noted the proposed the corridor aligns with the employment hub that houses the Australian Synchrotron, the Monash Medical Centre and the future Victorian Heart Hospital.

“Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs are growing and a new tram link between Caulfield and Rowville will help ease traffic on some of our busiest roads and get people home faster,” he said.

“This is the missing transport link for the south-eastern suburbs – it will connect some of our most important education, employment and shopping precincts and boost the local economy.”

“This new connection will give hundreds of thousands of Victorians a fast and efficient option to get to work, study or home, and help ease traffic on some of our busiest roads,” transport minister Jacinta Allan added.

Local manufacturing, catenary-free light rail and more in March-April edition

Rail Express is pleased to present the March-April Edition of the magazine in its digital format.

Click here to check out the digital edition of Rail Express March-April!

Click here for the pull-out special supplement on Rolling Stock Manufacturing & Rail Supply!

The latest issue of Rail Express includes a wrap-up of the ARA’s Light Rail event, held in Sydney in March, including comments from ARA boss Danny Broad on why more and more cities are choosing light rail.

Our special pull-out feature covers the challenges facing local manufacturing, and how a strong local rail sector can help the industry.

The magazine also includes the latest news and analysis from around the region, including a dramatic start to the year in Canberra, and the latest on Inland Rail.

Inland Rail consultations progressing in QLD

Community consultations and field investigations by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) for the Inland Rail project are progressing during the month of April along the Queensland corridor.

ARTC will also be hosting a stand at the Toowoomba Royal show next week. Simon Thomas, ARTC’s Inland Rail programme delivery director, said it would be a good opportunity for locals to come and talk to ARTC to representatives and find out more information about the project.

“We are committed to this community, as we are to all communities along the 1700km route,” Thomas said.

“Inland Rail is going to bring huge benefits to Darling Downs and Toowoomba and it has been great to see businesses, farmers and Councils already gearing up to make the most of it.”

During April, consultation sessions in Millmerran and Brookstead will enable landowners and other community members will be able to provide feedback to the ARTC on the Condamine River floodplain studies which are being conducted for the project.

Thomas said that ARTC team members would be operating throughout the study area from the NSW/QLD border up to Toowoomba, down the Lockyer Valley and towards to Kagaru in Beaudesert.

“These studies will help us understand more about factors such as the lay of the land, hydrology, rock and soil types, and flora and fauna. In addition to informing environmental reports, the work is critical to developing the feasibility design for the rail line,” he said.

From the border to Helion, teams will conduct will be conducting ecology studies, site-walk throughs, and geotechnical testing, while, from Gowrie to Kagaru, field investigations will include geotechnical, flooding and hydrology, ecological, noise, air quality and vibration, utility identification and cultural heritage surveys.

State outlines Western Sydney rail corridors

A freight rail connection between Port Botany and Western Sydney via the Southern Sydney Freight Line and a north-south passenger connection for Western Sydney Airport are among a collection of corridors identified in a draft report by the NSW Government.

The state on March 26 released a Western Sydney corridors summary report, with the aim of identifying and protecting the corridors that will be needed to “help establish the Western Sydney Parkland City”.

Four corridors have been identified for rail, or at least contain a rail component.

The first corridor is for the proposed North South Rail Line, which Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull agreed to help develop on March 4. The line would connect to Sydney Trains Western Line near St Marys, and to the Main South line near Macarthur, and would pass through the new Western Sydney Airport.

Sections of tunnel would need to be used at either end of the line: between St Marys and just south of the M4 Motorway, and between Oran Park and Macarthur. The report identifies land for future train stations at Oran Park and Narellan.

The second corridor would be for a South West Rail Link Extension, which would connect the South West Rail Link – opened in 2015 – to the proposed North South Rail Line at Bringelly.


Click here for PDF version.


The third corridor identified for protection is the Outer Sydney Orbital road-rail corridor, running all the way from Box Hill in the north, to Menangle in the south. Its protection would be to support integrated transport options to support “unprecedented growth” throughout Sydney’s west, the report states.

The fourth corridor is for the Western Sydney Freight Line, a future dedicated rail freight connection between Port Botany and Western Sydney via the existing Southern Sydney Freight Line. The line would extend between the existing freight Line at Leightonfield and Villawood, to the Outer Sydney Orbital’s freight rail corridor.


Click here for PDF version.


“Western Sydney is at the forefront of the biggest infrastructure delivery program in history and for once, we are in the fortunate position of being able to plan and deliver the roads and rail lines this future city needs, first,” state minister for Western Sydney Stuart Ayres said.

“Securing land for this massive transport infrastructure program will set Western Sydney up for success, open up new opportunities and enable us to effectively link our future communities, connect residents to hundreds of thousands of new jobs.”

Roads minister Melinda Pavey said that the new Western Sydney transport links would provide the freight and logistics industries with better access to the future “Aerotropolis”, the urban development that will surround the future airport.

“Building a new city doesn’t happen overnight, and what’s most important is we open up the conversation with residents, community groups, and businesses right across these crucial corridors to inform final alignments,” Pavey said.

Sydney Business Chamber Western Sydney director David Borger said securing the corridors would be important for the future of the proposed Western Parkland City.

“Even though investments into the construction of these road and transport corridors are not being made immediately, it is essential to plan for the future growth of the region,” Borger said.

“Reserving land for these vital transport corridors closely aligns with the Draft Future Transport 2056 Strategy and the Greater Sydney Commission’s plan for Western Sydney.”

The public will be able to give feedback on the corridors online up until May 18, or at a community consultation session.

Perth B-series train. Credit: Creative Commons / DBZ2313

Saffioti speaks to community on Morley-Ellenbrook project

The first community information and consultation session for the Morley-Ellenbrook Line project has been completed, with WA’s transport minister Rita Saffioti presenting the audience with the results of a recent public survey.

Over 150 people attended the session at Ellenbrook Secondary College theatre, where minister Saffioti also outlined the features and the planning process of the proposed link.

In the survey, completed by 1,927 residents, 82% registered positive feelings towards the project, 77% felt the line had importance for them “personally”, while 86% considered the link an important project for their suburb.

“It is clear from the information session and survey that residents along the future Morley-Ellenbrook Line corridor are excited about this project,” Saffioti said.

“It is the first of many consultations we will be having as this transformative Metronet project continues to develop.

“Starting consultation at this early stage in the project will ensure we end up with a project that the whole community will value and benefit from for many decades to come.”

The top improvements the survey respondents wished to see in their area were the presence of a train line and station, increased availability of public transport and more leisure and entertainment options.

Responding to concerns voiced in the survey about the potential for disruptive noise, Saffioti indicated that the state’s Public Transport Authority (PTA) had been learning how to improve noise reduction during the delivery of the Butler rail extension and the planning previous projects such as the Thornlie-Cockburn Line.

“Our design of the Thornlie-Cockburn Line secures better noise prevention through the matting underneath the rail and other noise-reduction measures. So we’re always learning and improving to make sure that we do what we can to make we address the issue at the planning stage,” she said to the audience.

Regarding station safety, Saffioti said that along with CCTV, it was important the new stations had more activity and interaction.

“[With the new stations] we want to have more interaction with the community. Ellenbrook, in particular, is a huge opportunity, because the construction of the town centre can be finished in conjunction with the station, tailoring the design to enable more interaction more often and offering better passive surveillance.”

Saffioti finished by telling the audience that community consultation was an important part of planning and delivering the project.

“We’re following each step and we want to take the community with us along the way. We want to explain what we’re doing, and we want the you [the community] involved, because we are absolutely passionate about this project,” she said.

“We hope you share our passion. We want to deliver [the Morley-Ellenbrook Line] because it is such a key part of our future.”

Job Opportunity: Rail Express

Mohi Media, publisher of Rail Express, is seeking a very special sales person to spearhead the growth of Australia’s leading rail industry publication.

Rail Express has grown exponentially from a single annual edition in 2016 to six editions per year for 2018, now serving 13,000 people a day via email, 4,800 people bi-monthly via print and countless more direct to our website.

We’ve achieved this by focusing on high-quality editorial content, creating an efficient print and digital mix, and ensuring we always do our best to champion the challenges, achievements and interests of the people who keep Australia’s rail networks moving.

Our continuous growth now provides an opportunity for Rail Express to take on a strategic sales specialist to drive the publication forward.

However, we’re not looking for any salesperson. We’re seeking one who will bring in new ideas and new energy the publication and, most importantly, someone who puts our readers first.

One of the many reasons Rail Express enjoys strong editorial credibility is our strict policy that we don’t (and never will) accept advertorial disguised as editorial content, so our perfect candidate will be one who can come up with amazing display, digital and sponsorship ideas that sync with our content and provide compelling opportunities for the businesses that have highly relevant products and services to offer our readers.

The person we’re looking for has a passion for the Australian rail industry, loves to network at industry events, is familiar with product we currently produce, is someone who can see the possibilities of we already have and is not afraid to think outside the box when putting forward concepts for improvement and/or new offerings for our readers and advertisers alike.

This is full-time position based in the Sydney CBD, with flexible working arrangements negotiable, and an appropriate remuneration package will be offered based on what you have to offer.

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