But the plan could be stopped dead in its tracks by the airport itself, which, under Commonwealth laws, must submit a major development plan that includes a lengthy community consultation process before the project can proceed.
Melbourne Airport chief of ground transport Jai McDermott told The Age the airport had long been one of the most vocal supporters of a rail link to the city and would work in good faith with the Victorian government to deliver the project.
“However, we are yet to agree on station location and design,” McDermott said.
“Melbourne Airport’s preference has been and remains an underground station, which provides a superior passenger experience, safeguards for future connectivity and is appropriate for Victoria’s international gateway.”
McDermott said it was important that the new rail station worked for all airport users, “not just those who arrive by train”.
“One of the key benefits of the suburban rail connection to the airport is that it will provide passengers with a reliable travel time, and given it will operate as part of the suburban system, it makes sense for it to serve people living in the suburbs it will pass through.”
In its long-term planning documents, the airport expects to build new terminals in the “midfield” area between its runways by 2042 to accommodate passenger growth, which could be serviced by a second stop on the airport rail link. However, an elevated first station could make it more difficult to extend the line underneath the runways.
Melbourne Airport is also slated to be the final stop in the proposed second section of the Suburban Rail Loop project, connecting from Box Hill, which the Andrews government said could be built by 2053. It is unclear how that would integrate with the elevated station.
Melbourne Airport has also previously argued that aligning the station to the north of the precinct would allow direct access to regional rail lines and could serve high-speed rail connections.
Public Transport Minister Ben Carroll, whose Niddrie electorate takes in Keilor East, took the unusual step of publicly calling for a Keilor East station last month, with the backing of local federal member Bill Shorten.
“Our community has been calling out for this station for years – and I’m glad that, because of a strong partnership in Canberra, we’ve been able to deliver it,” Carroll said.
The government said the link would take passengers from the city to the airport in about 30 minutes and run through Sunshine Station and the Metro Tunnel. This, it argued, would maximise connections to Melbourne’s booming west and south-east, as well as Victoria’s major regional centres of Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong and Gippsland.
Trains on the new airport rail line will provide a “turn up and go” service, with trains every 10 minutes. Thirty stations across Melbourne – from as far away as Cranbourne and Pakenham – will have a direct connection to the airport via the Metro Tunnel, and passengers from most other stations in Victoria will only need to change trains once.
Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan said a Keilor East station meant the airport rail link would create a new line for Melbourne’s west, connecting hundreds of thousands of people to Melbourne’s train network for the first time.
“This project stacks up. Not only will it better connect Victorians to our city, our suburbs and the world, it will repay every cent invested in opportunities for local workers and businesses,” she said.
In 2019, a consortium led by infrastructure investor IFM, Melbourne Airport, Metro Trains and Southern Cross Station put forward a privately funded plan to build a $7 billion underground rail link to the airport. However, the Andrews and Morrison governments decided to proceed with their own plan.
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