Will the Melbourne to Tullamarine Rail Link Ever Get Built?

railOn March 13, 2013, Premier Denis Napthine of the Victorian Liberal Government announced that sometime in the future, the Melbourne Airport Rail Link (MARL) would be constructed. It will be running from the CBD via Sunshine station and the Albion–Jacana railway line. Well, this plan of constructing a Melbourne to Tullamarine airport rail link has been debated since the 1960s, but nothing much has happened. Is this infrastructure really necessary? If it is, then why is it not yet built? What are the roadblocks in getting this project underway? Both Sydney and Brisbane have their airport rail link. Airports in other popular cities in the world, such as New York’s JFK and London’s Heathrow, have it. Does this mean that Melbourne needs this as well?

The 30 million travelers that use Melbourne Airport every year is expected to increase to hit 60 million in 2030. To cope with the demand, having a more efficient transportation system is definitely necessary. It is forecasted that the journey from the airport to the CBD and vice versa using the rail link is merely 25 minutes. That’s a dream worth pursuing for the sake of commuters, especially tourists.

So, why is it taking so long to build this system? Delays may be attributed to several factors.

Changes in political administration have led to the “go-no-go” decision about the project. Surely, there are different reasons for the opposition. The Transport Department, for example, says that it will affect or even scrap the current Metro Rail project that focuses on expanding capacity in the city loop. Now, unless the government exercises a strong political will and makes the necessary adjustments, the project will not push through.

Market research initially showed poor patronage of the airport rail lines in Sydney and Brisbane. What if the same predicament happens with the proposed Tullamarine airport rail line? Well, the government needs to look at the brighter side. Yes, Sydney and Brisbane initially struggled with attracting commuters, but now, the demand for using the airport rail links has grown and is turning in modest profits.

Who else would oppose this worthy project? Perhaps businesses that profit from providing services to commuters and motorists in this route, such as the Skybus Service and Transurban, the CityLink operator that is collecting toll fees. Having a rail link will most probably diminish their revenues. Even the annual revenues of the Melbourne airport parking facilities may be affected – both for the Melbourne airport operator and also the various private operators of melbourne airport parking nearby.

A budget of $8.5 billion to $11 billion is necessary to construct the Melbourne to Tullamarine airport rail link. The planned project start is in 2016 and completion is by 2026. Whether this is ever going to be built or not, the ball is in the hands of the present and succeeding governments.