Possible rail link to Melbourne Airport

The Age ran an editorial this week arguing that a rail line should be built from the CBD to Melbourne Airport to deal with growing traffic congestion on the principal radial freeway route.  I have a lot of difficulty seeing how this could ever work financially, much less why it should be a priority compared to other potential transport projects.   I’ve been on both the new Sydney and the new Brisbane airport rail lines and judging by the low patronage I’m not surprised they’ve both been in deep financial difficulty.

It might be that interstate business travellers heading to and from the CBD could find a rail line an attractive option at peak times when taxi queues are long and the freeway is congested.  However  the CBD only contains 17% of Melbourne’s jobs.  I can’t see business visitors whose cab fares are a company expense changing trains in the CBD to get say to a manufacturer in Altona or even changing to a tram at Parliament to get to a meeting in Fitzroy or Brunswick.

But the key problem for a train is that Melbourne residents (who have to get both to and from the airport) live in dispersed locations across the suburbs.  Very few frequent business travellers live close to the likely route between the CBD  and the airport. EDIT: see further post here.


15 Comments on “Possible rail link to Melbourne Airport”

  1. TomD says:

    Can’t argue with the pertinent new considerations and issues you raise over the need or not for a rail link. However while you have covered business travel well, the potential interest of many tourists to Melbourne wanting such a travel option is not canvassed as another key aspect of annual arrivals at Tullamarine.

    Even visitors ultimately travelling to non CBD destinations may be aware of the city’s radial public transport system (trams, trains and more) and may know that heading first to the CBD to access this is even now not a bad option if some cost savings are being sought. A direct train link with good additional transfers able to be made might appeal even more here.

    However even from a visitor perspective, assuming similar fare cost savings were in place, Tullamarine’s well run and frequent skybus services could remain competitive with rail – unless of course the rail trip proved much faster and was not subject to growing road congestion delays hitting the buses.

    Your comparison to Sydney and Melbournes airport train services requires some additional insights into what makes their individual patronage levels as low as they seemingly are.

    Many localised considerations might arise here – e.g. anything from the relative closeness of Sydney airport to the CBD making paying a bit extra in the way of a cab fare seem acceptable – to resentment of the inflated price originally being charged for the train option.

    Brisbane most likely has it own variables as well. Are the taxi fare rates lower than in the southern cities? How does the distance from airport to CBD influence things there too?

  2. TomD says:

    One key factor I omitted from my earlier comments, is that of attractive provision for luggage. Something as simple as this need can be a major influence on the ease of use with which an option is evaluated. And it would appear that allowance for large bags and suitcases on trains and buses in Australia cities in general do not always measure up here – unless specific airport bus services are the only trip component considered.

    • Thanks Tom for your thoughtful response. These are all good points.

      The reason I’ve ignored tourism is that the most congested periods are weekday mornings and afternoons when airport traffic on the Tullamarine freeway has to compete with other peak hour travellers. These are the times when the case for a train is most compelling.

      Arrival and departure times for tourists however tend to be more spread. Tourists within Australia tend to travel on cheaper fares at off-peak times. In short, there might not be enough tourists at peak times to take the train and contribute to its viablity.

      Tourists are also more sensitive to prices than business travellers. They might not be prepared to pay the level of fare required to make a train service viable.

      Of course from the tourists point of view it would be great to have a train service as I expect most international tourists travel to the CBD or inner city. Having said that, I suspect the majority of international tourists travel with at least one other person, in which case a taxi becomes a lot more competitive with a train, even for backpackers.

  3. Benno Spearritt says:

    I agree that a Tullarmarine-CBD airport link isn’t a priorty. Particularly with two or more people travelling (for ease and comfort as much as comparative cost).

    “I’ve been on both the new Sydney and the new Brisbane airport rail lines and judging by the low patronage I’m not surprised they’re both in deep financial difficulty.”

    In these cases I think that the patronage is low at least in part because it’s so damn expensive. It’s expensive because it’s privately operated. Governments need to bite the bullet and make commuter rail transport “free”, just as they do for the vast majority of our roads.

    • Alan Davies says:

      “Governments need to bite the bullet and make commuter rail transport “free”, just as they do for the vast majority of our roads”

      Depends on whether you think it would be a good idea to transfer money from taxpayers in general to CBD workers. I suspect it might be regressive.

      • Benno Spearritt says:

        Ouch. Damn that’s a good response. Of course my only response that wouldn’t involve regressive taxation involves yet more forays into my Melbtopia…

  4. Alan Davies says:

    I’ll have some more to say on this airport rail link proposal tomorrow

  5. […] to be built from the city centre to Melbourne Airport (I discussed this previously on March 2 – Possible rail link to Melbourne airport). There’s a couple of follow-up letters this morning supporting the idea of a rail […]

  6. Parag says:

    It is great to have a rail link to and from Melbourne Airport as majority of the tourists travel to CBD. The only thing concerns me is the capacity of thses trains i.e. how many passengers it can transfer at a given point of time.

  7. Moss says:

    Alan, I think you might be making an erroneous assumption here. Although only 17% of jobs may be in the CBD, I would strongly expect that a greater proportion of business travellers who fly would be travelling to the CBD for meeting etc.
    Therefore, one would need to look closely at absolute numbers rather than proportional numbers ie how many people actually travel on the city/airport route rather than just dividing the total number of business travellers by the percentage of jobs in the city. Does that make sense?

    • Alan Davies says:

      That makes a lot of sense and you’re right – the CBD would attract a larger share of all business travellers than its share of Melbourne’s jobs indicates because of conferences, meetings and so on. Also, some visitors doing business in the suburbs would still choose to stay in the CBD, especially if they wanted five star accommodation (I think Werribee Mansions is the only five star outside of the CBD).

      I don’t have any absolute numbers unfortunately (I was relying at the time of that post on making inferences from data I did have). I would expect that a lot of in-bound business travellers would still be doing business in the suburbs because there are many major destinations there e.g. most of the universities, most of the hospitals, local government and virtually all of manufacturing, transport and wholesale. And then there’re the out-bound Melburnites making business trips to other cities – I’d expect many of their trips would at least originate (or terminate) at home. If you drive to the airport from home you’re still going to drive on the return journey even if you go directly back to the office.

      It would be really useful to know precisely why the Brisbane rail link, for example, has performed so badly.

  8. […] quite like to have a rail line from the CBD to the airport, but as I’ve indicated before (here and here) only if it makes sense. Let’s look at some pertinent […]

  9. […] previously discussed the issue of a Melbourne Airport-CBD rail link here, here, here, here and here). Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)More on Melbourne Airport rail linkProposed rail […]

  10. […] discussed the issue of a Melbourne Airport-CBD rail link here, here, here, here, here and here). Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)More on Melbourne Airport rail link -37.781700 […]

  11. […] I’ve outlined the case against an airport rail link before (here, here, here, here, here, here and here), but in summary the key objections […]


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