Does a rail line to Melbourne airport make sense?

The Age ran a front page story on Saturday (Train derailed by buck-passing and vested interests) on the need for a rail link from the airport to the CBD. I say story, but as the headline and this quote indicate, it was more advocacy than news:

“But thanks to decades of buck-passing and pandering to vested interests by successive state and federal governments, Melbourne – unlike so many other cities of its size and wealth – does not have a railway line to its airport”.

So having pressed the civic pride button, it’s a pity The Age didn’t also push the rationality pedal and ask: is there a case for constructing a new public transport system (rail) to compete with the existing one (bus)?

Airtrain terminal Qld international airport

I would 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 issues.

First, the feasibility studies undertaken by the Government conclude that the numbers for rail don’t stack up (yet). The most recent evaluations, undertaken in 2001 by BAH and in 2009 by IMIS, both concluded there is not a strong enough case to build a new rail line to the airport.

The Department of Transport projected rail would capture only 9% of all airport trips and would require a subsidy of $350-450 million over 10 years (in 2001 dollars).

Second, in 2003 the Government upgraded the Skybus service so it could deal better with congested conditions around the CBD and on the Tullamarine Freeway. According to the Transport Department, new roadworks enabled Skybus to bypass traffic delays at the Tullamarine/Calder Freeway interchange and at the city fringe. The package included lane widening as well as line marking changes to create an emergency lane wide enough for buses. Read the rest of this entry »