An artist's impression of the elevated design concept for the station.
The Victorian government wants the Melbourne Airport train station to be elevated, not underground. Image by HANDOUT/RAIL PROJECTS VICTORIA
  • air transport

Airport rail link deadlock broken yet long wait remains

July 8, 2024

Passengers must still wait until at least 2033 to catch Melbourne’s proposed $10 billion airport rail-link, despite a bid to speed up the project by making its station above ground.

Premier Jacinta Allan has quashed hopes the train could be open in as few as six years, saying it would remain delayed due to “unreasonable demands” by the airport to make the station underground.

“The consequence of the unreasonable position … is that this project has been delayed by four years,” she told reporters on Monday.

“That’s the simple fact and consequences of what we have been trying to do for years, to negotiate with the airport.

“We needed their approval to be able to get into the airport footprint itself (and) to be able to do early works site investigations.”

Melbourne Airport earlier said it would back down on its push for an underground station and back the state and federal governments’ preference to build it above ground.

The Victorian government has argued the surface option would be quicker and cheaper while the airport thought an underground facility would future-proof it.

Melbourne Airport chief executive Lorie Argus said it would work with the government to deliver their preferred station and “compromise is necessary” to get the project finished as quickly as possible.

“(An underground station) gives us more flexibility but a business case to prove that could take another couple of years, and we feel as though we could ultimately get to the end of that and not have solution,” she said.

Melbourne Airport Chief of Aviation Lorie Argus (file)
 Melbourne Airport’s Lorie Argus says a compromise has been reached so work can finally begin. Image by Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS 

“We will work with the Victorian government to deliver their preferred above-ground station at the airport so the rail line can become reality.”

The airport’s plans for a third runway are currently being considered by the federal government and, if and when it opens, 45 million travellers a year are expected to pass through.

The airport hoped talks on the project’s design, construction and land acquisitions could restart immediately.

The compromise comes two weeks after federal government-appointed mediator Neil Scales declared the underground station should no longer be entertained.

The $10 billion link remained “viable and necessary” but should be above ground unless a comprehensive case was put forward for an alternative, Mr Scales found.

Opposition spokesman David Southwick applauded the airport’s decision and said it was now time for the government to get on with the job.

An above-ground station would still be a game-changer for millions of passengers, Public Transport Users Association president Tony Morton said.

Once the project was under way, the focus could turn to other important factors including access between terminals and transport within the airport, he said.

In 2018, the Victorian and federal governments each committed $5 billion to the project, which is expected to cost between $8 billion and $13 billion.

Melbourne Airport was part of a consortium the following year that offered up to $7 billion towards an underground station and tunnel to Southern Cross Station.

The airport’s land is leased by the Commonwealth to the Australia Pacific Airports Corporation Limited under a 50-year deal, meaning any planning application must be submitted by the airport.

Premier Jacinta Allan speaks to media during a press conference.
 Premier Jacinta Allan says the stalled negotiations mean the airport station is 10 years away. Image by James Ross/AAP PHOTOS 

Meanwhile, the government is powering ahead with the next phase of Melbourne’s Suburban Rail Loop with the preferred bidder for the second tunnelling contract being appointed.

Consortium Terra Verde will construct the 10km twin tunnels from Glen Waverley and Box Hill as part of the project, Ms Allan announced on Monday.

The link will make up part of SRL East, which will connect trains at Deakin and Monash universities and is estimated to cost $84.1 billion.

“Homes located close to good public transport services is exactly where people want to live,” Ms Allan said.

An airport rail link would connect to the wider network at Sunshine in the city’s west.