Waikato Regional Council has welcomed central government funding for a start-up passenger rail service and is looking forward to receiving the details of the NZ Transport Agency Board decision.
In the meantime, today’s announcement by the Government means work can kick into gear to keep the project on track for a March 2020 launch.
This includes the regional council appointing a project manager, who will be in charge of overseeing the pre-implementation and implementation phases of the Hamilton to Auckland service. The procurement process is expected to take approximately one month, with the successful candidate due to commence the job in early February 2019.
Council chair Alan Livingston said national investment in the service “signalled a commitment to improving transport for people in Waikato’s growth areas”.
Total funding needed for the project is $78.2 million over the first six years, from 2019 to 2024. Transport Minister Phil Twyford today said $68.4 million would come from central government via the NZ Transport Agency, with local government contributing the remaining $9.8m.
Of this, about $49 million will be used to purchase and modify the rolling stock for the service. It will also be used to reinstate a maintenance facility at Te Rapa, construct a new modern rail station at The Base and upgrade the existing Huntly station.
The operational cost of running the service is estimated to be $5.82 million per annum. Seventy-five per cent of this will be funded by the NZ Transport Agency subsidy, with the remainder split between passenger fares and Waikato Regional Council rates on Hamilton ratepayers.
“This funding means the project is entering the exciting next stage,” said Hugh Vercoe, Waikato regional councillor and regional transport committee chair.
“We presented a sound business case to the Transport Agency which clearly demonstrated the benefits that would be delivered and its projected uptake by Waikato people,” Cr Vercoe said.
“This service might not deliver what some people had hoped from the outset, but it’s a fantastic first step that’s going to make a huge difference to congestion, and more importantly the lives of many people,” Cr Vercoe said.
Waikato Regional Council, KiwiRail and the NZ Transport Agency will now sign a capital funding agreement to secure the purchase of the carriages from Auckland Transport, order long lead item parts for the refurbishment of the carriages and purchase the resources required to get the workshop in Wellington ready for production.
By late January it’s expected KiwiRail will have transported the carriages from Taumarunui to Wellington, with carriage design and planning works being finalised through February ahead of production getting underway by the end of March 2019.
Russ Rimmington, Waikato regional councillor and co-chair of the Hamilton Public Transport Joint Committee, said: “Auckland’s gridlock problem is creeping south. Rail is the only option to relieve the mounting congestion between Hamilton and Auckland if we want a first class region in which to live.
“With this funding secured, we can get on with it,” Cr Rimmington said. “We look forward to seeing the conditions approved by the NZ Transport Agency Board that will need to be addressed through the planning stages of the project to ensure access to all the funds required.”
Meanwhile, preparation will begin for railway station upgrades and developments being carried out separately by Hamilton City Council and Waikato District Council.