Rail service to Auckland not forgotten

It will be a while before the Waikato Regional Council can get up to full steam on establishing a passenger rail service between Hamilton and Auckland.

Ideas about how best to get a viable service running between the two cities will be included in two transport planning documents now under review.

Plans to set up such a service were derailed two years ago, after the regional council and other councils in the area baulked at the cost.

However, all is not lost. Rail was discussed by the council this week during deliberations on its 2014/15 annual plan. Three submissions were received on the issue.

The council noted a review of the regional public transport plan was being made this year and the council's regional transport committee will also discuss it in the development of a regional land transport plan.

Public feedback will be sought on both draft transport plans later this year.

Councillor Lois Livingston said while it was good that the council had not forgotten about setting up the passenger service, infrastructural developments such as the electrification of much of the line needed to happen first.

"Until that happens we are never going to get anywhere. "We might not be able to do anything about it now, but we still have to look at it." The proposal to establish a Hamilton-Auckland passenger rail service was put on hold in 2012, following an investigation into its feasibility by a rail working party.

That party comprised representatives from the regional council, Hamilton City Council, Waikato and Waipa district councils, Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, KiwiRail and the NZ Transport Agency.

For 12 months the group worked through the issues, preparing its final recommendations in a report in September 2011. That report was sent to all partner organisations, which were asked to formally endorse the working party's recommendations. It was also sent to all councils in the Waikato region for their information.

The preferred option for the proposed service was a Silver Fern stopping at Frankton, The Base, Huntly, Te Kauwhata, Tuakau, Papatoetoe, The Strand and Newmarket.

At the time, the annual operating cost for two daily return services was $1.97 million, with a start-up cost of $970,000. It was expected fares revenue in the first year would reach $740,000, leaving a funding gap to be paid by Waikato ratepayers.

The regional council then decided not to fund the rail service, because the proposal would have a high financial impact on ratepayers in a difficult financial environment. All the partner organisations of the rail working party had declined or shown reluctance to fund the proposed service.

However, the regional council did at the time agree to keep a "watching brief"' on any further developments which could see it resurrected.

The 2014/15 Annual Plan is due to be adopted on June 26.

Waikato Times