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Ex Qld transport boss sent to break Melbourne air rail deadlock

written by Jake Nelson | April 10, 2024

An artist’s render of the high capacity metro trains planned to service Melbourne Airport. (Image: Rail Projects Victoria)

A former senior Queensland transport official has been appointed to end the stalemate over Melbourne’s troubled airport rail link.

Neil Scales, director-general of the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads from 2012 to 2023, will mediate the ongoing stoush between Melbourne Airport and the Victorian state government over the rail link, which was last year delayed past its planned 2029 opening date.

Scales, who currently sits on the board of the High Speed Rail Authority, is also deputy chair of the Australian Road Research Board and a board member of the Tourism and Transport Forum and Queensland Transport and Logistics Council.

Before coming to Australia, he ran Merseytravel, the transport authority for Merseyside in the north of England, for 13 years.

The spat between the airport and the government stems from a disagreement over whether the airport station should be elevated – the model favoured by the government – or underground, which the airport has argued would be cheaper.


A spokesperson for the Victorian government told the Australian Associated Press the state hopes Scales’ appointment will smooth over “unreasonable demands” on the part of the airport.

“Melbourne Airport has refused to contribute a single cent towards Airport Rail and these frustrating negotiations have caused significant delays to the project,” he said.

“We look forward to the Commonwealth progressing matters with Melbourne Airport so that we can continue to deliver the major projects that Victorians need.”

The airport hit back, saying it had offered to help fund the project.

“Melbourne Airport was part of a consortium that offered up to $7 billion for an underground airport station and express tracks from Sunshine. The state government rejected it,” an airport spokesperson told AAP.

The Commonwealth owns the land Melbourne Airport is built on, and as such, the airport must submit any planning applications to the federal infrastructure minister, Catherine King.

Minister King said in November she would appoint an independent negotiator to end the long-running dispute.

“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.

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.

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