Melbourne Airport has said an underground rail link could be cheaper than the state government’s preferred elevated solution.
In documents obtained by The Age under freedom of information laws, the airport proposed shifting tunnel boring machines already being used on the North East Link and West Gate Tunnel projects onto the rail link project as a means to save money on the construction of an underground line.
According to the submission by airport executive Jai McDermott, using a single-bore tunnel or “monotube”, as opposed to the twin tunnels being dug for Melbourne’s Metro Tunnel rail line, would bring down costs and avoid disrupting access roads and utilities while the long-delayed airport rail link is under construction.
“The alternative solution seeks to achieve superior benefit-to-cost ratio by providing a seamless traveller experience and integration into the terminal precinct, whilst reducing the overall project costs and increasing certainty of programme delivery,” McDermott wrote in the submission.
“[A single-bore tunnel] greatly reduces the station size, site impacts, construction costs and time frame. In complex locations like the airport forecourt, this methodology offers great efficiencies.
“Such a monotube approach is being used in projects in Spain, France, Dubai, and the Netherlands. Some key examples of monotube approach are the Barcelona Line 9 and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Phase 2 Silicon Valley.”
The Victorian government has long favoured an elevated rail link instead, insisting it is the cheaper and less obstructive solution, and accusing the airport of seeking “unreasonable” compensation for the loss of affected land.
A spokesperson for the state government told The Age that an underground solution would “involve greater disruption, take almost two years longer and cost more than a billion dollars more – on top of the unreasonable demands for compensation [the airport] is pursuing”.
The Commonwealth owns the land Melbourne Airport is built on, and as such, the airport itself must submit any planning applications to the federal infrastructure minister, Catherine King.
Minister King said last week she would appoint an independent negotiator to end the long-running dispute between the airport and the state over the rail link, which has been delayed beyond its intended opening date of 2029.
“Certainly, this has been an ongoing issue that both the Victorian and Commonwealth governments have had to grapple with as to how the station or where the station will be,” she told ABC Radio.
It is hoped that once complete, Melbourne Airport’s link will take passengers into the CBD within 30 minutes, and trains will arrive at 10-minute intervals.