Auckland-Hamilton train service mooted

It is the self-described city of the future and soon Hamilton could be just a train ride away.

This afternoon the Transport Committee will consider a two year trial for passenger rail between Auckland and its Waikato neighbour which could be in operation by the 2012/2013 financial year.

It is being recommended by a group of stakeholders headed by the chairman of the Waikato Regional Passenger Transport Committee.

A daily commuter service was established between the two cities in mid-2000 but was canned a year later due to low patronage with an average 129 passengers per trip.

The Overlander currently operates a train from Auckland which stops at Hamilton but this caters to a tourist market, is more expensive and less reliable than the service being proposed today.

Campaign for Better Transport, which petitioned parliament for the service last year, says the service would benefit Aucklanders and Hamiltonians alike.

Spokesman Cameron Pitches says businesses such as Fonterra and Southern Cross Healthcare have workers who regularly commute between offices in both cities.

The almost two-and-a-half hour journey would depart weekdays from Hamilton at 6am and 2.30pm and Auckland at 9.30am and 5.30pm.

Under current proposals, the service would finish at Newmarket going via the old train station at The Strand in Parnell.

The only other stop for the twice daily return service would be at Papatoetoe where commuters would be able to transfer to other public transport and the airport bus.

Today's agenda says more Auckland stops would benefit local commuters and says further options should be considered before it commits council funding to the project.

Initially Auckland had been expected to contribute 40 per cent to costs but this has been revised to an indeterminate figure based on benefits to the city.

One option is for the service to travel via Pukekohe where it could carry commuters to downtown Auckland.

The majority of passengers on the disestablished service between Hamilton and Auckland boarded at Pukekohe and Papakura stations.

Cost implications of the service will be calculated in a business case which will be finished later this year.

Other concerns set to be raised today are the impact it will have on Auckland's rail capacity and the length of the proposed journey which is about an hour longer than the average car trip. 

Pitches believes the service offers economic benefits in its current form with Hamilton commuters spending their money when they arrive in Auckland.

He says Aucklanders will also make use of the train.

"If there was a service which allowed Aucklanders to go to Hamilton, have a meeting and return to Auckland the same day, I think that would have quite a high patronage," he says.

While Campaign for Better Transport has concerns about the journey length, Pitches says the service will avoid congestion, be more reliable and commuters will be able to work and "enjoy a coffee" while travelling.

Decisions on the proposed train line will be finalised when funding is approved from Waikato councils.

At the end of the two year trial "detailed consideration" would be made of the service's future.

Today's report will also be referred to Papakura, Franklin and Waitemata local boards for feedback.

The meeting will also consider a report recommending a rail loop links downtown Auckland and the airport.

The report was presented to Auckland Transport last week who approved its recommendations and moved a detailed business case for the rail loop to go ahead.

The Transport Committee is expected to make the same recommendations today.

Auckland Now