Airport Link, Sydney

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Airport Link
Mascot Railway Station (1).jpg
View of the Airport Line as it runs through Mascot.
Other name(s)Airport Line, New Southern Railway
Wolli Creek
Rolling stockK, C, M, A and B sets
Opened21 May 2000 (2000-05-21)
Line length10 km (6.2 mi)
Number of tracks2
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) standard gauge
ElectrificationOverhead 1500 V DC[1]
Operating speed80 km/h (between stations)[2]
60 km/h (at stations)[2]
Route map
New South Wales Metropolitan Rail Area with Airport Link highlighted in green.

The Airport Link (also known as the Airport Line or New Southern Railway) is a railway line in Australia connecting Sydney Airport to the Central Business District and the south-western suburbs of Sydney. With the exception of Wolli Creek, the Airport Line stations are operated by a private company, the Airport Link Company, as part of a public private partnership. The contract allows the company to charge a surcharge on top of the normal fare. The line is served by Sydney Trains T8 Airport & South line services.


The Airport Link includes a four kilometre rock tunnel and a six kilometre soft ground tunnel. The tunnel is 23 metres (75 ft) below the earth's surface.[3]

For most of its length, the line travels underground. It runs south from platform 23 at Central station across a viaduct to the tunnel portal beneath Prince Alfred Park near Chalmers Street. The tunnel roughly follows George Street underneath the suburbs of Redfern and Waterloo. At Green Square station, beneath the intersection of Botany Road, Bourke Road and O'Riordan Street, the line continues beneath Bourke Road to Mascot station, a block south of Gardeners Road.

From Mascot, the line roughly follows O'Riordan Street before turning sharply to the west once underneath Sydney Airport. The line runs westward under the Domestic and International terminals before continuing north-west underneath the Cooks River to reach the surface at Wolli Creek where it joins the East Hills line. The line is two tracks for its entire length.

The two new stations which were built for the airport's International and Domestic Terminals, feature larger lifts and wider ticket barriers to cater for passengers with baggage.[4] Three new suburban stations were built – one each for the residential development areas of Mascot and Green Square, and an interchange station with the Illawarra line at Wolli Creek.


In 1990, the State Government called for Expressions of Interest to build a line to the airport.[5] In July 1994, the Government announced it had entered a public private partnership with Transfield Services and Bouygues to build the line.[6][7] Under the deal, a private company, Airport Link Company, would cover the costs of building four of the stations. In return it would operate those stations for 30 years and have the right to impose a surcharge on fares for their use.[8] The company's involvement was predicated on passenger estimates and train reliability guarantees that later proved to be optimistic. The State Government would fund (and own) the railway itself and Wolli Creek station.[8]

Construction began on 12 February 1995 with a view to improving facilities for air travellers ahead of the 2000 Summer Olympics.[9] At the time, the main public transport link between the city and its airport were two Sydney Buses express routes, the 300 to Circular Quay and 350 to Kings Cross branded as Airport Express.

A Tunnel boring machine was used for the construction.[10] Manufactured by the German firm, Herrenknecht, it arrived in Australia in October 1996.[11] While the use of a Tunnel boring machine relieved the need for large numbers of workers at increased pressure, a caisson system is formed at the cutting head.[10][12] Workers entering this space for inspection, maintenance and repair had to be trained.[10] Medical direction was utilised for planning compression and decompression, assessment of fitness to dive, training of workers and lock operators, health monitoring of workers and treatment of related injuries.[12] This project was the first time oxygen decompression tables were used for caisson work in Australia.[12] The incidence of decompression illness was 1 case in every 286 pressurisations (0.35%) and this problem affected 5.9% of the workers.[12]

In conjunction with the construction of the new line, the section of the East Hills Line between Wolli Creek Junction and Kingsgrove was quadruplified. Once this was opened, the running patterns of the trains on the lines changed. The flying junctions interchange near Central station was altered to give the Airport line its own platforms (21 & 23) at Central. Local (all stations) trains generally were timetabled to run from East Hills via the airport, peak hour express trains from Campbelltown run along the original route via Sydenham, taking the express tracks between Kingsgrove and Wolli Creek Junction.


Green Square railway station
A Sydney Trains B set at Domestic Airport Station

The line opened on 21 May 2000, three months ahead of the Olympic Games, after the State Government had spent around A$700 million on the project and the Airport Link Company over A$200 million.[13] As the stations commenced operation on 21 May 2000, the ownership of the four stations reverts to the state government on 21 May 2030.[13][14]

Despite the cancellation of the rival Airport Express bus service, taxi surcharges and expensive airport parking, the Airport Link consistently failed to meet patronage targets. Less than a year after the line opened, the State Rail Authority stated that "patronage has been lower than expected to date", but they remained optimistic, believing "that as airport users become more familiar with this facility and the ingrained habits of many years gradually alter, patronage will continue to increase."[13]

In January 2001, the Airport Link Company went into receivership, exposing the government to costs of around A$800 million.[15] State Rail blamed "lower than expected patronage" and stated it was working with the company to increase it.[16] Together with the Cross City Tunnel, the Airport Link served to dampen government and business enthusiasm for further public private partnerships in transport in New South Wales.[17]

In October 2005, the Government and the company signed a revised agreement on revenue and patronage, settling the latter's claims against the former. The Government paid A$34 million to the company, with another A$73 million due as CityRail earns revenue from Airport Line business.[18]

The Airport Link Company was put up for sale in early 2006, and was purchased by Westpac.[19] In 2009 the business made a profit of A$5.8 million which increased to A$9.3 million in 2010.[20][21] In 2013, Westpac's 49.9% stake was purchased by Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), who then took control of the Airport Link Company.[22][23]

Station access fees[edit]

From opening, all stations on the line charged a Station Access Fee to use the line, as well as the standard fare. In March 2011, it was announced that the NSW Government would cover the cost of the station access fee at Green Square and Mascot stations, meaning that passengers no longer need to pay a surcharge to access these stations.[24] To compensate Airport Link Company, the Government pays the company a "shadow" station usage fee at a fixed contracted rate of approximately A$2.08 per entry and exit of these stations.[14]

Following the removal of the access fee, patronage at Green Square and Mascot increased by 70 percent between March and June 2011 as a result of the reduced fares.[25][26] A fee remains in place for the Domestic and International Airport stations,[27] which has been criticised.[28] Workers at the airport do not receive a discount on the station access fee, merely a $21 weekly cap in the additional Station Access Fee.[29]

By the late 2010s, Green Square and Mascot stations were experiencing overcrowding at peak times due to significant increases in patronage.[30] At Mascot station, passenger numbers increased by 117% between 2015 and 2019, and the station is now being expanded to deal with the increased demand.[31]


From the beginning, a major criticism of the line was that it is not served by dedicated rolling stock, which contrasts with the other major Australian city with an airport rail link: Brisbane. The Brisbane AirTrain line is primarily serviced by Queensland Rail's IMU and NGR fleets, both of which make provision for luggage carrying passengers, as well as offering additional passenger comforts such as high backed seats, free Wi-Fi and toilets. Furthermore, the Brisbane line terminates at the airport, bypassing most suburban stations, meaning customers travelling on the AirTrain are not mixed with suburban commuters. By contrast, customers entering the Sydney Airport Line at Domestic and International must compete for space with commuters from the East Hills line, and find that the trains have no special provision for their luggage. Services are provided by Sydney Trains's K, C, M, A and B set fleets.

Although often perceived as all revenue going to the Airport Link Company, under the revenue sharing agreement, 85 percent of revenues raised by the access fee since August 2014 goes to the NSW Government.[14] From 2015 to 2018, the NSW Government received $197.6 million in total net revenue from the station access fee.[32]


  1. ^ Asset Standards Authority (19 March 2014). RailCorp Electrical System General Description, Version 1.0 (PDF). Transport for New South Wales. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 June 2015. Retrieved 23 May 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Drivers Route Knowledge Diagrams – New Southern Railway (Airport Line)". Sydney Trains. November 2015. Retrieved 6 August 2016.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ "Our Company". Airport Link Company. Retrieved 12 February 2021.
  4. ^ "How to get from the Airport to the City". Airport Link Company. Archived from the original on 13 January 2007.
  5. ^ "Govt to seek private line to Airport", Railway Digest, p. 383, November 1990
  6. ^ "Airport Link Funded by Private & Public Sectors", Railway Digest, p. 7, September 1994
  7. ^ "Sydney Airport Rail Link". Transfield Holdings. Retrieved 23 May 2016.
  8. ^ a b "The Opening of Sydney's New Southern Railway", Transit Australia, 55 (7), July 2000
  9. ^ "New Southern Line Construction Begins", Railway Digest, p. 6, April 1995
  10. ^ a b c Walters, Des (2003). "Sydney Airport Link Rail Tunnel Project". Descend Underwater Training Centre. Archived from the original on 24 September 2003.
  11. ^ "The Tunnel Boring Machine", Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, p. 23, January 1997
  12. ^ a b c d Bennett, Michael; Lehm, Jan; Barr, Peter (June 2002). "Medical support for the Sydney Airport Link tunnel project" (PDF). Journal of the South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society. 32 (2). Retrieved 23 May 2016.
  13. ^ a b c "1999–2000 Annual Report" (PDF). State Rail Authority. 16 November 2000. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 March 2016. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  14. ^ a b c "Removing or reducing station access fees at Sydney Airport" (PDF). New South Wales Legislative Council. 28 February 2014. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  15. ^ "Sydney Airport Link Company in Receivership", Railway Digest, p. 6, January 2001
  16. ^ "2000–2001 Annual Report" (PDF). State Rail Authority. 12 October 2000. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 March 2016. Retrieved 23 May 2016.
  17. ^ Moore, Matthew (31 October 2005). "Open secrets". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 31 October 2005.
  18. ^ "Annual Report 2005/06" (PDF). State Rail Authority. 15 September 2006. pp. 59, 81. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 March 2016. Retrieved 23 May 2016.
  19. ^ Baker, Jordan; Nixon, Sherrill (11 March 2006). "For sale: ghost train to Sydney Airport". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 30 December 2006.
  20. ^ Saulwick, Jacob; Besser, Linton (19 February 2011). "Cheaper for some on airport rail link". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  21. ^ Baker, Jordan (27 July 2006). "Westpac to bring airport ghost train back from dead". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 29 May 2017.
  22. ^ "USS takes almost half of Australian public transport company". Pensions Age. 2 December 2013. Retrieved 9 November 2020.
  23. ^ "Awarded projects". NSW Treasury. Retrieved 9 November 2020.
  24. ^ Green Square and Mascot commuters to save $17 a week CityRail 2 March 2011
  25. ^ Saulwick, Jacob (2 March 2011). "Train fares to fall at two stations". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 23 May 2016.
  26. ^ Saulwick, Jacob (9 June 2011). "Tickets sales rocket on airport line as prices plunge". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 23 May 2016.
  27. ^ "Green Square and Mascot commuters to save $17 a week". CityRail. 2 March 2011. Archived from the original on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 23 May 2016.
  28. ^ O'Sullivan, Matt (13 January 2019). "State reaps $310m over four years from station fees on Airport Line". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 24 January 2021.
  29. ^ "Airport Fare Cap a Step Forward for Casual Workers". Sydney Alliance. Retrieved 24 January 2021.
  30. ^ O'Sullivan, Matt (21 November 2018). "'Transport mess': Passengers at one Sydney station nearly double in three years". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  31. ^ "Mascot Station set for major upgrade". Transport for NSW. 5 June 2020. Retrieved 24 January 2021.
  32. ^ "Budget Estimates 2018-2019 Transport and Infrastructure" (PDF). New South Wales Legislative Council. 31 August 2018.

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