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Questions still remain on the Melbourne Airport Rail Link study

The Ballieu/Napthine government's Melbourne (Tullamarine) Airport Rail Link study has been released, along with the Rowville and Doncaster studies, this past week.

Direct links to the Public Transport Victoria hosted documents for the MARL - Melbourne Airport Rail Link study are below:

Key points

  • The study team spearheaded by Parsons Brinckerhoff have assumed the rail service following the Albion East base case will be an extension of services running through the Melbourne Metro tunnel. This has the effect of pushing the estimated travel time from Central Melbourne to Melbourne Airport out to 30 minutes.
  • The study compared the Albion East base case (favoured and reserved by the Bracks/Brumby government) with multiple options which resulted in three primary candidates:
    • a direct tunnel link from Footscray via Highpoint SC, the old Maribyrnong Defence site and Avondale Heights with a north westerly approach to the airport
    • a direct link continuing on from the Flemington Racecourse line via Highpoint SC, Maribyrnong Defence Site and Avondale Heights with the same approach to the airport as the direct link from Footscray and the Albion East base case.
    • and a branch off the Craigieburn line with a westerly approach to the airport
  • only the Craigieburn line branch option provides a higher Net Present Value rank above the Albion East case case.
  • a new MYKI fare zone would be created to charge a premium fare for airport access

Cutting through the gumpf

The direct link options - via Footscray and Flemington Racecourse - provide an opportunity to focus new urban development surrounding the stations along the routes (Highpoint SC, Maribyrnong and to a lesser extent Avondale Heights) but are essentially twice the estimated cost of either the Albion East or Craigieburn options. Let's simply rule these two options out based on cost alone - the Moonee Valley/Maribyrnong LGAs have a lot of scope to increase PT usage in their respective areas through better utilising road based PT: expanding tram lines and creating more permanent bus lanes.

The Craigieburn line option is estimated to cost around about the same price as an Albion East, but take a longer time for an end to end journey: not to mention services would be mixed with Craigieburn and Upfield services in the city loop (post Melbourne Metro tunnel opening) and throughout the whole line, thus limiting the ability for faster and more express airport services.

This brings us back to square one - the study by the Bracks/Brumby government a decade ago is essentially still valid and they were right to protect this corridor for a future Rail Link. It's what the study has focused on, in terms of operations, on the Albion East base case that needs picking apart.

Forget the rest, Albion East it is

The curious assumpton, or at least that's the impression I got from reading through the full report, study findings and executive summary, is that the Albion East route to Melbourne airport will become a 3rd branch of the Sunshine-Dandenong metro line which will be created when the Melbourne Metro tunnel is opened and the Melton line is electrified.

Point 3.4.1 on Page 24 of the full report states:

"Regional Rail Link is a new rail line that separates regional trains from the metropolitan trains. This will provide dedicated tracks from Sunshine to Southern Cross for trains from Geelong, Bendigo and Ballarat. The project will provide greater capacity for Melbourne rail services to cater for the residential growth that is occurring in the western growth areas of Melbourne.

This project is relevant to the Melbourne Airport Rail Link because it may present an opportunity to use these new rail lines for part of the alignment or increase capacity on the existing Metropolitan rail network to allow for MARL services. It also presents the opportunity for an airport service to connect at stations that are being upgraded as part of the Regional Rail Link."

It goes on to say:

  • A meeting was held on 19 June 2012 with key representatives from the Regional Rail Link Authority to discuss the current status of the project and the likely opportunities/constraints it may have for MARL. The following key points were summarised from the discussion that are of relevance to the AAS:
  • there is potential to unlock latent demand at Platforms 1-7 at Souther Cross Station to accommodate new services, as V/Line locomotives are phased out of operation in the future
  • The RRL design uncovered a range of constraints, including:
    • limited reservation through Footscray for new tracks
    • the need to widen bridge spans between Sunshine and Footscray
    • the Sunshine Orchid (a threatened flora species) at Sunshine, resulting in changes being made to the design

Then spread across pages 28 and page 29, there's this:

Can PTV please explain why using the Regional Rail Link tracks are not considered suitable in the strategic rail operations plan?

Further questions that need to be asked:

  1. Above and beyond the current 10-12 trains per hour (TPH) that currently operate to Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo, how many more services are likely to operate once the new Regional Rail Link (RRL) tracks are operational?
  2. Rather than provide extra frequencies on the regional lines (in particular Geelong), has there been any study into lengthening key platforms on lines to allow longer trains and more premium express services to operate to regional centres?
  3. When will the RRL tracks between Sunshine and Southern Cross have their signalling system upgraded to cater for 2 minute headways/30TPH?
  4. How is PTV going to manage Bendigo line conflicts now that metropolitan services have been extended to Sunbury?
  5. Presumably, the Melton electrification project will require a grade separated junction just beyond Sunshine station: was this factored into the Regional Rail Link's Anderson Road grade separation design?
  6. When will the new Tarneit corridor be expanded and connected to Werribee (forming a triangular junction in West Werribee) so this linecurrently under construction becomes purely a regional link to Geelong with Wyndham Vale and any station built along this corridor being serviced by Metro?

In part two of this series, I'll take a look at how the extra capacity on the new Regional Rail Link tracks could be used with V/Line operating services between Southern Cross and Tullamarine.

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