Tulla rail link should be priority, says airport boss

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MELBOURNE Airport's chief executive, Chris Woodruff, is urging the Victorian government to rethink its priorities of building a rail link to Avalon Airport before one to Melbourne Airport.

Melbourne Airport would need a rail link by the end of the decade to cater for the projected growth in air travel, said Mr Woodruff.

The Baillieu government has committed $50 million on preliminary works to build a railway line to Avalon, but only $6.5 million for a two-year feasibility study into a train to Melbourne Airport.

''I encourage the state government to continue the planning for a rail link to Melbourne Airport,'' Mr Woodruff said. ''Obviously I acknowledge the pre-election commitment they made on infrastructure to Avalon Airport. But I would encourage them to review the prioritisation, now, of airport infrastructure - given that we are growing quite rapidly and we are a much larger airport.''

By the end of the decade, about 40 million people a year are expected to use Melbourne Airport.

To cater for the expected growth, Mr Woodruff released a draft plan into the first phase of a $300 million terminal redevelopment that will see a new domestic terminal built (Terminal Four) with 35 more plane bays, up to 6000 more car spaces and upgrades to airport access roads, part of a grander, five-year, $1 billion expansion project.

Premier Ted Baillieu said at a rail infrastructure announcement yesterday it was ''inevitable'' Avalon would become the state's second international airport, hence the need for a rail link there.

''I've made the point that Avalon as an international airport, I believe, is inevitable as the second international airport in Victoria and we can see the pressure on Melbourne Airport now,'' he said. ''It's why we have sought to begin the process to provide that rail link to Avalon and upgrading the fuel link to Avalon and I think they're important long-term steps.''

Presently, only a handful of domestic Jetstar flights a day use Avalon, compared with Melbourne Airport's 28 million passengers a year, including 6.5 million international travellers.

Transport Minister Terry Mulder, whose department is responsible for the rail link projects, defended the government’s handling of the ‘‘long talked about’’ Melbourne Airport rail link project.

‘‘If we’ve learnt anything about airport planning and construction over the past few decades it’s that long-term decisions count,’’ he said.

‘‘We’ve allocated $3 million to the planning and development of the Avalon rail link and work, including technical, economic and environmental assessments and discussions with the community and stakeholders, is underway.

‘‘We are now seeking $30 million from the Commonwealth to carry out the next phase of the project.

‘‘We have also invested $6.5 million into a feasibility study for the long talked about Melbourne Airport rail link,’’ Mr Mulder said.

The former Labor government reserved a Melbourne Airport rail link corridor through East Albion a decade ago, but it could prove too expensive to develop.

''The Albion East corridor is quite expensive when it comes to infrastructure, because for the last kilometre-and-a-half it's underground,'' Mr Woodruff said.

''I'd love to be able to find a way to do an above-ground solution because it's going to be cheaper and therefore more do-able.''

A railway down the centre of the Tullamarine Freeway would be a ''great option'', he said.

''I don't know how difficult that might be. But we have to find a creative way to get an above-ground solution that doesn't involve the massive costs of tunnelling.''

Tourism operators' body the Victorian Tourism Industry Council said a Melbourne Airport rail link was more beneficial for Victoria, but it was also a much more complicated and expensive project than a rail link to Avalon.

''Clearly [a train to] Melbourne Airport is far greater in terms of economic benefit, but if you're asking, what is the more prudent investment decision, you have to weigh up the cost,'' said the council's chief executive Dianne Smith, who commended the airport's expansion.

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