Politics of building a metro line to airport: Case of Melbourne

Prof Ian Woodcock of RMIT Univ writes on the topic:

Public discussion of rail links to airports has been narrowly focused on the idea of a single line and where to run it. In Melbourne, the politics of this debate has so far prevented a railway from being built, because it is not possible for one line to meet all of the landside access needs of the airport. The issue of rail access for a new western Sydney airport has also not been resolved.

The history of planning for a Melbourne Airport rail link has been dogged by party-political differences focused on the idea of a single railway and the question of its route out to Tullamarine. Traditionally, the Coalition parties have favoured the express proposals, while the Labor Party has preferred alignments that benefit local commuters.

This difference and the impossibility of resolving it with a single line would be one of the reasons we have so far not gone to the bother of actually building anything. It has also distracted attention from more incremental ways to improve landside access to the airport beyond the SkyBus. Its market is similar to the main targets of the express route proponents.

Politics everywhere…

The author says Melbourne Airport traffic is going to be similar to that of Heathrow soon. However, London has multiple options:

To understand our predicament of airport access, comparisons with London’s Heathrow are useful. Many Australians know this airport and its landside access demands are far more similar to those of Melbourne Airport than may be imagined.

The Piccadilly Tube line was extended to Heathrow in 1977. That was a decade before it was serving over 30 million passengers comparable to what Melbourne airport was serving in 2013.

In 1998, Heathrow added a 15-minute express rail line to Paddington Station, when its landside access needs were about 40 million. That’s the demand Melbourne Airport is projected to hit in 2019. When London’s Elizabeth line (formerly CrossRail) opens next year, it will connect Heathrow to a major east-west line similar to the Melbourne Metro.

In 2028, Melbourne Airport is projected to hit the same level of landside access demand as Heathrow experienced in 2017. Currently, 40% of passengers using Heathrow do so via public transport – 27% via rail, 13% via bus or coach. And 35% of airport staff use public transport, and this is rising.

 

Heathrow has 13 public bus lines, 27 coach services and three railway services – the stopping-all-stations commuter service on the Piccadilly line and two levels of express service at premium ticket prices on regional railways (which will be subsumed by CrossRail).

By comparison, even though it is one of the world’s busiest, Melbourne Airport has a mere four public buses, some regional coaches and private express bus services. As a result, 86% of access is by car, including 17% by taxi or limo. SkyBus would take the lion’s share of the 14% bus/coach access.

In India, all such talks are missing. It is an ordeal to reach and travel from most airports in India. One is hugely dependent on private transport like taxis with public transport either being absent or not efficient enough.

 

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