Confirmation of central government funding for vital Hamilton-Auckland passenger rail infrastructure is an investment in making the Waikato a better place to live.
That’s the collective view of the project partners, after a commitment from the NZ Transport Agency Board to fund implementation was confirmed today (Friday, 23 August).
It means Hamilton City Council can make improvements at Frankton rail station and get on with work to build the new Rotokauri transport hub, including a park and ride facility and bus interchange and an over bridge safely linking people across the tracks to the Base, the rail platform and Tasman Road; Waikato District Council can upgrade the Huntly rail station; and KiwiRail can start on the new carriage maintenance facility at Te Rapa.
It’s also a green light for the installation of wifi on carriages and ticketing systems.
At this stage, the start-up passenger rail service travelling from Hamilton to Papakura is due to roll out for the first time in June 2020, subject to the completion of the stations. Two return services will operate each weekday, with times that suit commuters or people travelling to Auckland for meetings, conferences or training. There is also one return service operating on Saturdays – perfect for a day out in Auckland.
Speaking on behalf of the project, Waikato Regional Council chair Alan Livingston said, “Investment in this service is an investment in Waikato communities, making it a better place for us to live.
“At current growth rates, the population within Auckland and the Hamilton-Waikato metropolitan area is on track to double within the next 40 years. The motorway system alone won’t be able to cope with this growth. It’s vital we establish and continue to improve passenger rail connections to relieve pressure on our roads and provide capacity to grow.
“Establishing high quality rail connections that can move a lot of people requires significant lead times to plan and build infrastructure. It’s essential we start improving the rail system now to meet these future growth needs and set our next generations up for a more sustainable future,” Cr Livingston said. “The start-up passenger rail service is the first major step in that journey.”
Cr Livingston added: “Access to public transport makes areas more appealing and stimulates more transit oriented urban development.
“It plays a key role in improving community access to social and employment opportunities,” Cr Livingston said.
It’s expected these benefits will be amplified over time as the service evolves. The start-up service will need to grow to include inter-peak services and additional stops in the north Waikato, said Cr Livingston, as well as investigating the option of extending through to Puhinui in South Auckland to connect with direct bus routes to the international airport.
Of course, there are benefits for passengers too, Cr Livingston said. “Time on board is productive time. Passengers will be able to get a head start on the working day, writing reports, responding to emails and preparing for meetings or just relax.
“Passengers will be able to plan their trip with confidence, with a consistent and reliable journey time that can’t be achieved when driving during congested peak hour traffic.
“We’ve heard from commuters they’re currently driving in stressful traffic conditions for long periods of time in the early mornings and evenings. Taking fatigued drivers off the road is going to make it safer for everybody,” Cr Livingston said.
The start-up rail project is being led by Waikato Regional Council, with co-funding partners NZ Transport Agency, Hamilton City Council and Waikato District Council. KiwiRail will operate the service with the co-operation of Auckland Transport.
The passenger rail connection between Hamilton and Auckland is one of a number of priority projects of the Hamilton to Auckland Corridor Plan, a joint iwi-council-central government initiative.
Waikato Regional Council will be collecting a rate from Hamilton ratepayers to help pay for the operation of the service, with the majority of the running costs subsidised by central government.
More information about the service is available at waikatoregion.govt.nz/rail.