The federal government has appointed an independent negotiator to try and end a row over whether Melbourne Airport’s upcoming rail link should have an underground station.
The airport believes a delay to its original 2029 launch opens the opportunity to “future-proof” the project with a below-level link, while the state government is thought to prefer a cheaper station above ground.
Former prime minister Scott Morrison and ex-Victorian premier Daniel Andrews announced in November 2020 that they would each commit $5 billion to the project, with work initially hoped to begin last year.
However, the incoming Labor federal government placed it under review, arguing several infrastructure projects were over budget.
“Having opted to delay the project, it [the Victorian government] has demonstrated a willingness to work to a longer timeline and as such, we would encourage the state to work constructively with Melbourne Airport to properly explore an underground option,” an airport spokesman said.
“The airport station must be fit for purpose and future proof, to ensure that passengers are well served and so that neither the airport precinct or rail line are constrained as Melbourne continues to grow.”
Federal Infrastructure and Transport Minister Catherine King confirmed a rail link would go ahead, but said the recent review didn’t examine the option of an underground station.
“They didn’t make any commentary about the route in terms of that,” she told ABC Radio.
“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.
“What we will do is get an independent negotiator to negotiate with the airport, and we’ll join with the Victorian government to do that.”
It’s 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.
The rail line will operate new ‘High Capacity Metro Trains’, and the existing SkyBus service will also be maintained.
The final route will see a fresh track run from the airport to Sunshine and then continue beneath the city via the $11 billion Metro Tunnel before continuing onwards to the south-eastern suburbs via the Cranbourne and Pakenham lines.
Travellers on the Cranbourne and Pakenham lines will be able to travel to the airport directly, while other metro lines will require one swap inside the tunnel, which is due to be completed by 2025.
A new exchange at Sunshine, meanwhile, will connect Geelong passengers in an hour, Ballarat in 90 minutes and Bendigo in two hours.