Malcolm Turnbull pledges $5b for Melbourne airport rail link

Posted: 12th Apr

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has promised $5 billion for a Melbourne airport train line.

The pledge - which follows a promise from Canberra to study the project in its 2017 budget - received a tepid welcome from Victoria's Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan on Thursday, who said the state was already working on the airport rail link.

"It's good the Prime Minister has finally found Victoria on a map, and we’ll accept this funding given how much he short changes our state," she said.

Mr Turnbull wrote to Premier Daniel Andrews late on Wednesday night - after telling media about the plan earlier that day - suggesting a 50-50 funding arrangement with the state. The plan would use the $2 billion Victoria will get from selling its share of the Snowy Hydro scheme.

The letter from Mr Turnbull proposes the federal government retain a 50 per cent ownership stake in the airport rail line.

The Victorian government is understood to be concerned that the offer by Mr Turnbull for the federal government to take a half stake in the project means Canberra will be more focused on long-term financial returns from the rail line rather than the best route for Melbourne's transport network.

Work on a preliminary business case for the airport rail line started last September, with $30 million of the project costs spent by the Victoria to be reimbursed to it by the Turnbull government.

The study, which aims to recommend a preferred route, is due in September.

A rail link to Melbourne Airport has been debated since Tullamarine first opened in 1970. The Andrews government's advisor Infrastructure Victoria has said the link would be needed within the next 15 to 30 years and would cost up to $5 billion.

The four rail link options the Prime Minister will outline on Thursday closely follow those discussed in a 2013 report completed by Public Transport Victoria.

The federal government's preferred route is likely to be through Maribyrnong, via Highpoint Shopping Centre and Victoria University, and also through the former Maribyrnong Defence Site - which Canberra is trying to sell to the private sector for development of up to 6000 homes.

Mr Andrews promised last November that construction on the rail link would be underway within the next decade, but the government has argued a train can’t run until the Metro Tunnel opens in 2026.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has backed the link.

By Clay Lucas

11 April 2018