Melbourne airport backdown on station paves way for long-awaited train link

<span>An artist's impression the proposed above-ground Melbourne airport train station in Tullamarine.</span><span>Photograph: Rail Projects Victoria/PR IMAGE</span>
An artist's impression the proposed above-ground Melbourne airport train station in Tullamarine.Photograph: Rail Projects Victoria/PR IMAGE

Melbourne Airport has agreed to a “compromise” and will back down on its demand for an underground railway station, as it hopes to bring forward the project’s completion date to 2030.

But the premier, Jacinta Allan, poured cold water on the prospect of having the project finished by then, saying the airport can’t expect the station to be built within six years, after her government delayed it by four years.

On Monday, the airport’s chief executive, Lorie Argus, announced it would adopt the state government’s preferred above-ground station proposal, ending the long-running stalemate.

“Victorians have waited long enough for an airport rail line. We will work with the Victorian government to deliver their preferred above-ground station at the airport so the rail line can become reality,” Argus said.

“While Melbourne airport has consistently advocated for an underground station, we are prepared to compromise on our position to ensure we have more transport options in place for the millions of new passengers that will visit Victoria and the airport precinct’s expanding workforce.”

Speaking on ABC Radio National, Argus was hopeful the state government would finish the station in time to line up with the airport’s third runway opening, which she said was estimated to bring 45 million travellers to the airport each year.

This was despite the government’s announcement in May that the project would be delayed by at least four years to 2033, due to the standoff with the airport operator.

“If we can pick up the pen quickly and get it built, I’d love to see it in place – if not at the same time, [then] just after our runway by 2030,” Argus said.

“But we recognise that might not be realistic, we need to let the state work that through. But we will not be difficult. We will work with them to have this built as quickly as possible.”

Related: Victorian treasurer threatens to consider train station for Avalon amid dispute with Melbourne Airport

Allan welcomed the airport’s change of heart, but said it would not be possible to meet that timeline.

“Their position has only changed in the last 24 hours and that does not wash away the four years of delay caused by their previous insistence that it be an underground station that costs time and money,” she said.

She said the government was yet to conduct early works as a result of the impasse, and foreshadowed further negotiations between the federal government and Melbourne Airport to discuss compensation for land.

In 2020, the state and federal government each committed $5bn to the Melbourne airport rail.

But the project has stalled over the state’s insistence it would not finance the more expensive underground option demanded by the airport.

In an attempt to settle the argument between the Victorian government and Melbourne airport’s owner and operator, Australia Pacific Airports Melbourne, the federal government appointed a mediator.

In his report to the Albanese government last month, mediator Neil Scales “recommended against further commonwealth and state consideration of an underground option at this time”.

Scales wrote that the airport could produce a “comprehensive business case” so governments “can examine the proposal in detail” if they are to be convinced to fund the more expensive option.

But in the interim, he recommended that the federal and Victorian governments proceed with initial construction works on the rail line. These include “no regrets” work at Sunshine station that could be built.

Argus said another business case would take up to two years to complete and the airport “can’t afford to wait” any longer.

“Victorians have had enough of this topic and we’re certainly all a little bit tired of talking about it,” she said.

The mayor of Moonee Valley Council, which will host the rail line, issued an eight-word statement welcoming Melbourne airport’s change of heart.

“About bloody time. Let’s get on with it,” Pierce Tyson said.

The opposition transport infrastructure spokesperson, David Southwick, said: “The time for excuses and delays is over – Labor must get on with building Melbourne Airport Rail.”