After 95 years of asking for a train station, this ‘transport slum’ almost missed out

Matthew Muscat relied almost entirely on his parents to drive him from place to place when he was a child growing up in Airport West.

The 35-year-old returned to the suburb, 12 kilometres north-west of the CBD, to raise his own family in 2019 after a five-year stint in New York and found the suburb’s access to public transport was as bad as ever.

A station will finally be built while Matthew Muscat and his wife raise their children in Airport West.Credit:Simon Schluter 

“It wouldn’t happen anywhere else in the world, that a suburb that’s so close to the city has no train,” he said.

But a dream shared by generations of residents came true this last week when the Andrews government confirmed it would build a new train station at Keilor East, which borders Airport West and Keilor Park.

The station will be part of the $13 billion Melbourne Airport Rail project, set for completion in 2029, and will for the first time connect around 150,000 residents to trains running to the CBD via Sunshine in 27 minutes.

Today, it takes Muscat an hour to walk to the 59 tram, running alongside the Tullamarine Freeway, and ride it to his CBD office.

The Keilor East station is a victory almost a century in the making. As far back as 1927, there were calls in state parliament to run local trains along the Albion-Jacana freight corridor, which cuts through the area.

Jack Simpson, the first member for the local seat of Niddrie, renewed the push in his 1975 maiden speech, which described his electorate as a “transport slum”.

But after 95 years of lobbying, the Keilor East station almost didn’t happen. The Airport Rail Link business case, released Wednesday, recommends against including it in the project.

Patronage would be too low to justify the extra building costs and an extra two-minute stop on the line might discourage travellers catching it to the airport, the study found. It recommends putting land aside to build the station some time in the future.

An artist’s impression of a new elevated station to connect the $13 billion airport rail link to Melbourne Airport.

But it appears community pressure won the day. Moonee Valley mayor Samantha Byrne credited five years of “hard advocacy” from locals and the council after it was clear the airport rail project would run through their neighbourhoods.

“The community are going to have the unfortunate effect of more trains being run on that line and it would have been a real kick in the guts not being able to actually get on it,” she said. “But now they can, people are jumping for joy.”

Public Transport Minister Ben Carroll, who is the member for Niddrie, broke ranks in August and called on the Andrews government to include the station in the project, which sits under Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan.

A subsequent government report released with the business case overturns the original decision against the Keilor East station. It found ways to shave 15 per cent off construction costs and concluded that building the station now would maximise the project’s economic benefits.

Public Transport Users Association spokesman Daniel Bowen said the station was a great outcome for nearby residents who live in a transport “black hole”, including many who work at the airport.

Muscat, one of many who joined lobbying efforts, said trains would bring new employment and education opportunities to the community. And his children (Mason, five, and Mia, two) won’t depend on their parents’ cars like he did.

“It’s the biggest thing to ever happen to the suburb and area in our lifetime,” Muscat said. “It’s going to completely change the lives of a lot of people that don’t even know it yet.”

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