They are expected to back a new above-ground link between the airport and Sunshine, with trains to run along existing tracks between the western hub and the city via the new Metro Tunnel.
This will kill a proposal from superannuation fund giant IFM Investors to build a $7 billion tunnel between the city and Sunshine, allowing fast express airport services on dedicated tracks.
Former Liberal premier Mr Kennett – who reserved land for a rail line through Broadmeadows while in power but prioritised the construction of CityLink – called for an express rail link from the city to the airport to ensure the service was competitive with road-based alternatives.
“I think if people are going to use it in large volumes, you’ve got to get to and from the airport quickly,” he said.
“There’s no point in stopping at one or several stations along the way; its self-defeating.”
Mr Baillieu – who promised to build rail links to Avalon and Tullamarine when he was premier – said, when asked why the project has been put off so long, that the “more direct” airport rail routes had always proven more costly.
“It has been difficult to demonstrate the benefits in terms of speed and time for passengers and, secondly, it seems to be getting more expensive by the day,” he said.
But he believes in the need for “dedicated track” all the way to the airport and easy access points to other transport options at either end of the line, to motivate people to use it.
“Commuters will judge this very quickly and very harshly,” he said. “It will be judged on frequency, speed and cost to them – not to the taxpayer– and what happens at each end. That’ll be it.”
Mr Bracks won the 1999 election promising Melbourne an airport rail link, and he envisioned it would be built under a private-public partnership model.
He said vested interests – the taxi lobby and Melbourne Airport – sought to stop the project.
“Now the airport is a supporter,” he said. “They’ve got so big they can have car parking and fast rail.”
At the time, Labor wanted to investigate opening the line to “suburban commuters as well as airport commuters, so it’s not just businesspeople who use it. If we could capture some of the customers on the way in some suburbs, [we thought] that will help the economic viability of the line.”
The 2001 collapse of Australian airline Ansett – reducing the number of commuters expected to use the line – was the “key” reason for putting the project on hold, Mr Bracks said.
The former Labor premier, who is also West of Melbourne Economic Development Alliance chairman, said plans to turn Sunshine station into a major hub would be a “great boon for Melbourne’s west”.
Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan said the government would provide a “quick, frequent and affordable service for all passengers”.
“We’re in the midst of the biggest ever public transport investment in Victoria’s history – as Melbourne continues to grow, the projects we’re delivering will ensure our entire network is a reliable, viable and cost-effective alternative to road travel.”
A federal government spokesman said airport rail was a “huge and complex project” and Canberra and Spring Street were working constructively to build it.
“Our ambition is to have a train journey to the airport from the city that is fast, affordable and meets the needs of travellers,” he said. “We want to see it built as soon as possible.”
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Timna Jacks is Transport Reporter at The Age