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Melbourne train link promised between CBD and Sunshine under Labor’s airport rail plan

By state political reporter Richard Willingham

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A new rail tunnel is proposed to be built between Melbourne’s CBD and Sunshine under a Labor Government plan to boost train services to the city’s booming western suburbs and create fast links to Geelong and Ballarat.

Key points:

  • A new tunnel connecting Sunshine and Melbourne’s CBD would be integrated with the airport rail link
  • Premier Daniel Andrews contributed $100 million to planning services in the west, including electrifying lines to Melton and Wyndham Vale
  • A trip to Geelong from Melbourne would take 35 minutes on a high speed rail line and the trip to Ballarat would take less than an hour

The tunnel and extra services would be integrated with the proposed airport rail link, with Sunshine station to become a “super hub”.

Earlier this month, Opposition Leader Matthew Guy promised to build a $19-billion “European style” regional rail network as part of his election pitch on decentralisation, with 32-minute express train services to Geelong by 2022.

Premier Daniel Andrews has now committed another $100 million to planning for train services to the west of the city, including electrifying and extending metropolitan services to the booming suburbs of Melton and Wyndham Vale.

Patronage on train services in the two suburbs — among the fastest growing regions in the nation — has jumped significantly in just three years.

The monthly train patronage in Wyndham jumped to 166,000 this year, up from 95,000 in 2015.

In Melton, monthly patronage grew to 129,000 people, up from 75,000 over the same period.

Those services would be separated from the Ballarat and Geelong lines, allowing train speeds to the regional cities to be dramatically increased to above 160 kilometres per hour.

Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan said Labor’s Western Rail Plan would cut travel times to Ballarat to less than an hour, and to Geelong to about 35 minutes.

“We want to … look at running train services up to 200 kilometres per hour,” she said.

Southern Cross tunnel an option

This year’s budget included $50 million for planning for fast trains to Geelong and Ballarat.

That idea is being developed in conjunction with the airport rail link plan. A business case for that project is due to be completed next year.

Train lines to those cities could also be electrified.

As part of the announcement, the Labor Government has released a 16-page Western Rail Plan document, detailing the services to the western suburbs and a dedicated track between Sunshine and the CBD.

“Right now, there is limited available space for additional tracks between Sunshine and Southern Cross,” the document said.

“Extra track capacity will be needed in the future to deliver new metro lines, the airport rail link and fast rail services to our regional cities.

“Work is needed to identify options to increase rail capacity between a future airport rail link and Sunshine super hub and the city, including a possible new rail tunnel from Sunshine to the CBD.”

Public Transport Victoria chief executive Jeroen Weimar confirmed work was already underway to plan those new tracks.

“We’re working on the business plan at the moment around how that alignment is going to work and whether we need to tunnel between Sunshine and Southern Cross,” he told ABC Radio Melbourne.

“That would increase the capacity of through-trains, both the airport rail link trains and through-trains coming in from Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong back into the city.”

The Government also said there was the potential for an extra train connection between Wyndham Vale and Werribee.

It recently released plans for a $50-billion suburban rail loop, which would not be completed for decades.

Under Labor’s proposal, work would begin by the end of 2022 and take about a decade.

Shadow Treasurer Michael O’Brien called Labor’s plan a “half-baked panicked alternative” which would be delivered too slowly, compared to the Coalition’s plan to deliver fast rail to Geelong by 2022.

Mr Andrews defended the timeline, saying the project could not be delivered without separating the regional and suburban train tracks.

“The thing about this is you can’t deliver this sort of electrification to Wyndham Vale and Melton unless you are doing it in conjunction with the airport rail link,” he said.

“You can’t then have a Sunshine connection to the city unless, again, you are doing it as part of the airport rail link.

“Those projects don’t begin until 2022, so telling the people of Geelong that they’ll be able to get to the city in 30 minutes in about two years’ time makes no sense whatsoever.”

A new rail tunnel is proposed to be built between Melbourne's CBD and Sunshine under a Labor Government plan to boost train services to the city's booming western suburbs and create fast links to Geelong and Ballarat.

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