Concern rises over rail plan


Tate Papworth

The Melbourne Airport rail link has been touted as a “game changer” by Brimbank council, but if it’s not done right it’ll cause headaches for years to come, a leading rail advocate has warned.

The state and federal governments appear increasingly likely to ditch the idea of a dedicated airport tunnel from the city to Sunshine and instead jam trains on existing metropolitan tracks via the new metro tunnel.

Rail Futures president John Hearsch said that move would create numerous issues across the west.

“There’s a number of serious problems with this, for a start travel time will blow out. We’d estimated you’d be able to get out to the airport from Southern Cross Station in about 18 minutes via a tunnel, by cramming trains onto congested tracks we’d conservatively have that number at 31 minutes,” Mr Hearsch said.

The wider implication are more serious.

“The plan, once complete … is to have trains come through Sunshine and go on to Watergardens, Sunbury and Melton once the Melton line electrification is complete.

“By adding trains to already jam-packed lines, we’re majorly impacting what this project can deliver.

“Something has to give somewhere and we’re hearing that the electrification of the Melton line may now be deferred for some time and they’ll keep running diesel trains along regional rail link tracks.”

He said Wyndham will also bear the brunt of the shortcomings.

“Wyndham is bursting at the seams … the average peak hour train is carrying 160 per cent of capacity and it’s close to the point where it’s not going to cope.

“The average Vline train has 444 seats and the official capacity of those trains are the number of seats, but some of them are carrying 700 passengers.

According to Mr Hearsch patronage at two recently opened stations in Wyndham Vale and Tarneit has increased by 20 per cent a year.

“Tarneit is the second busiest Vline station behind Southern Cross,” he said.

“By not adding new tracks between Southern Cross and Sunshine, there isn’t going to be enough capacity to meet the demands of Wyndham, Melton, Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo … this had to accomodate growth.

“If we get this wrong, we’ll be living with the consequences for many, many years.”