The Victorian government has confirmed its preferred route for the proposed Melbourne Airport Rail Link (MARL), and its intent to match the federal government’s $5 billion in funding with $5 billion of its own.
The confirmation follows a strategic assessment, produced by Transport for Victoria. It says a train line via Sunshine, in Melbourne’s west, is the government’s “preferred route for the MARL for further development through the full business case process.”
Under this option, trains to the airport would leave Southern Cross and travel via the existing Sunbury line to Sunshine station, before heading north to the airport in Tullamarine. The existing line would be upgraded and expanded.
The federal government committed $5 billion to the project in April, with the requirement that the Victorian government match the funding “dollar for dollar.”
The publication of the assessment was paired with the announcement by premier Daniel Andrews and transport minister Jacinta Allan that it would match the funding if the incumbent Labor government is re-elected at the next statewide election, to be held in November.
The investigation examined four options for the proposed rail link, including the Sunshine option.
One would have added an additional track to the existing Craigieburn line after Broadmeadows station, which would result in 13 stops between Southern Cross Station and the airport.
Two more direct, but also more expensive options would have involved significant tunnelling. The first would travel via Victoria University and the Maribyrnong defense site that the federal government plans to sell for housing development. The second is similar, but would follow sections of the existing Flemington line, without a station at the university, and be less direct.
The three other options would all use the City Loop, while the Sunshine route would use the under-construction Metro Tunnel.
The assessment found that, while “all four short-listed route options performed relatively well against key criteria,” the Sunshine option “offers superior connections to more areas of Melbourne through its integration with the Metro Tunnel.” In particular, it found that the added benefit of increased connectivity around major employment areas in the city’s middle and outer suburbs outweighed the increased travel time to and from the airport when compared to the Maribyrnong and Flemington routes.
The report also noted that passengers travelling from Victoria’s north and west to Melbourne Airport would experience significantly faster travel times via the Sunshine route, rather than transiting through the CBD.
The assessment also found that the Sunshine route, which would involve significant use of existing rail corridors, would be “between 1.5 and more than 2 times cheaper than the Flemington and Maribyrnong routes respectively.”
The selection of the Sunshine route is consistent with a similar study conducted by Public Transport Victoria (PTV) in 2012, which examined roughly the same routes.
The full business case for the project is due “in 2019/2020.” A stakeholder consultation process and “detailed technical planning and development” will now commence.
The assessment’s release comes after Melbourne Airport unveiled a preliminary masterplan that included land reservation for a potential railway.