The airport rail link must work for every Victorian

Click here to read Scott Tanner's Od-Ed letter "Short-term options for Melbourne Airport Rail Link risk compromising Victoria’s West" here. 

Herald Sun, Wednesday 4 March 

Scott Tanner: The airport rail link must work for every Victorian

The Airport Rail Link is vital for Victoria’s future but the huge costs involved mean it can’t be a short-term fix and must benefit all Victorians, writes Scott Tanner.

The most immediate and important issues facing Victoria are the long-term investment decisions for the development of our transport infrastructure. They are difficult decisions because they are practically irreversible in any reasonable time frame and will impact on the liveability and experiences of the community and visitors for decades to come.

The Committee for Melbourne’s members have identified the Melbourne Airport Rail Link as the most important issue facing our state because it is a crucial building block for city, regional, interstate and global connectivity.

We are not alone. Fellow committees in Melbourne’s west and in the regions have also been vocal about the need for a modern airport link solution that delivers critical capacity and connectivity for our city and our state.

Greater Melbourne is one of the fastest growing cities in the developed world. But that growth is not uniform. Melbourne’s western suburbs, such as Melton, Sunbury and Wyndham, are some of the fastest growing suburbs in Australia. Those suburbs lack sufficient transport connectivity and capacity today, let alone what is needed to service the forecast future population boom that is up to 112 per cent in those areas.

The Australian federal government has committed $5 billion to build the Airport Rail Link and the state government has agreed it will match that commitment. All of us as taxpayers, and particularly people in Melbourne’s west, have a right to expect that such a significant amount of money will be spent with the future in mind and not be subject to short-term political pressures and compromises.

Taxpayers should be very concerned at proposals for an Airport Rail Link that would reduce capacity on our already congested suburban or regional rail lines and potentially create a city of “haves and have-nots”. Why? Other cities around the world have found that social, cultural and economic isolation leads to community dislocation and social unrest for residents of affected suburbs who don’t have access to the same services and opportunities as the rest of the city.

Proposals such as using the existing MM1 route do not add capacity to the rail network and therefore risk further exacerbating the congestion issues that people in the west are already facing.

For Victoria to remain internationally competitive as a leading tourism and business destination, we must have a fast, direct and dedicated airport train.

The Committee considers that any airport rail link must offer:

A regular, rapid express service of no more than 20 minutes between the airport and the city, with Sunshine as the only stop on that route.

Dedicated rail lines with dedicated rolling stock to accommodate baggage.

A solution that will add to overall rail capacity to service the rapid population growth in the north and west of the city.

The building blocks for regional rail services to Victoria’s biggest regional centres such as Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo, by enabling the next generation high-speed trains.

This is a crucial issue which goes to the heart of decision-making by our governments and the investment of taxpayer dollars.

When it comes to city-shaping investments of such importance, Australians should be demanding that major infrastructure projects, like the Airport Rail Link, should deliver productivity and liveability improvements for all Victorians.

Scott Tanner is chair of the Committee for Melbourne, which includes more than 140 members from corporate, academic, not-for-profit and government sectors and works towards shaping a better future for Greater Melbourne.