Is the Avalon rail link Baillieu’s folly?

In her famous book, The march of folly: from Troy to Vietnam, multiple Pulitzer Prize winning author Barbara Tuchman describes how governments sometimes persist, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, with policies that are against their own interests.

Ted Baillieu’s folly might be his Government’s unconditional election commitment to build a rail line to Avalon Airport. Handed the perfect opportunity to begin stepping backwards from the project by reports of Tiger Airway’s imminent withdrawal of all services from Avalon in favour of Tullamarine, the Premier was steadfast in his support for the Avalon link.

Although Tiger accounts for half of all Avalon’s airline business, the Premier is reported as saying that he doesn’t think a pull-out by Tiger would have any longer term implications for the airport. In another report, the Premier told The Age planning for the rail line would continue irrespective of what Tiger does:

The rail link is part of the development of Avalon and if you look at the numbers around Melbourne airport, there is going to be a need for a second international airport

No doubt there’ll come a day when Melbourne does need a second major airport, but as I’ve explained before, we’re a long, long way from that now. In fact spare airport capacity is one of the city’s great competitive strengths compared to arch-rival Sydney. If the Federal Government’s current investigations conclude that High Speed Rail between Sydney and Melbourne is viable, the warrant for a second major airport in this city would recede even further into the future. In any event, given the majority of Melbourne’s population lives south of the Yarra and will be for many years yet, it’s not obvious that locating an airport near Geelong would be the most sensible course to pursue.

Now is the time to be planning long-term for a future airport, not to be building the associated infrastructure – yet the Government has committed to starting construction of the Avalon rail link in its first term.

I’ve scratched around before for legitimate reasons to support this project and came up empty-handed. No one has offered a sensible or valid reason why it should be built, let alone why the tax payer should subsidise it. The only vaguely plausible justification I can think of might be the development of Avalon as an “inland port” for containers, but then the Freight Futures – Victorian Freight Network Strategy doesn’t mention Avalon and, of course, the Premier hasn’t mentioned this possibility either.

The Premier needs to show us the Government’s plans and analysis justifying why a second major airport is required and telling us when and where it’s needed. He also needs to show us the business case for building the Avalon rail link now, with a good explanation for why taxpayers need to contribute $100 million plus for construction, not to mention additional costs for operations.

In the absence of an explanation it is inevitable people will read all sorts of dubious motivations into the Government’s determination to proceed with this project. Otherwise the rail link could be known as Baillieu’s folly.

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7 Comments on “Is the Avalon rail link Baillieu’s folly?”

  1. JS says:

    Has there ever been a study into whether a passenger airport is needed/would be viable in the outer-Eastern or South-Eastern fringe?

  2. Alexander says:

    If he builds the simple rail line to Avalon, he reckons he won’t have to build the more complex line to Tullamarine. “Look, we have a rail line to an airport already.” If he’s lucky it might cannibalise a bit of the domestic market from Tullamarine and route international flights via Sydney (or some other airport). The advantage is that he looks like he’s doing something about transport to airports and it’ll be at a significant cost-saving to any railway line to Melbourne Airport.

    So there’s plenty of advantages; they’re just political ones.

    • Geelong is a marginal Labor seat, the kind Baillieu will be hoping to pick up in the next election to consolidate his majority. It’s cheap enough that he doesn’t have to run the federal infrastructure gauntlet.

      And it was an election promise, IIRC. Rule number one – keep your election promises, even if they were bad ones.

  3. wilful says:

    I wonder how much Lindsay Fox has donated? Too cynical?

  4. wizofaus says:

    The idea that this train line makes more sense than other locations crying out for them (e.g. Doncaster*, Rowville) seems pretty silly. But it’s not inconceivable that this could be used as an opportunity to create a new development corridor with better infrastructure than many of the areas currently used for new land releases. Realistically Melbourne is going to continue to grow in area, and having it extend towards Geelong does seem on the surface to be preferable to having it haphazardly extend in every other direction.

    * See, for example, http://theage.drive.com.au/roads-and-traffic/freeway-congestion-calls-for-desperate-measures-20110801-1i8at.html

  5. Steven says:

    I think that we need more rail and this is just one part of this link. Yes linsday fox will definately benefit from it. The former government ( cant remmeber liberal or labor or whatever) basically gave Linsday fox avalon airport. We need to remmeber these thiefing bastards for what they are.

    Though back to the railways. If we can get more people out of the cars with more trains . Its a good thing. I am not against cars but I do understand that because of incompetent planning that this problem has occured. THe people who plan obviously are idiots. The government ministers are incompetent or idiots. I dont know which. The road problems are fixable but the special interests will not allow it.

    I have said many times that the planning is the main problem. The special interests create the problems and drive the government to have bad policies.

    The price of property is god sent and so the public transport is driven by this. We all have to go toward the city to work to keep the property values in the city high. I know this. Alot of people know this. Thats the whole system.

    Then the road system is designed to keep these property prices up. The academics talk about creating congestion on roads to keep local consumers local and stopping from shopping around. THere is alot of discussion about these things and they go back to roman times.

  6. […] depth about what a silly idea the Avalon rail link is because I discussed it only a few weeks ago (Is the Avalon rail link Baillieu’s folly?). Suffice to say that Melbourne Airport is 22 km from the CBD, is the second busiest airport in the […]


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