A daily commuter rail service from Hamilton to Auckland's inner-city Strand station is "a good first step", say rail advocates.
A multi-agency working group assessing the viability of a daily Hamilton-Auckland rail link has named a Silver Fern railcar service into The Strand as their preferred option.
The service would leave commuters with a 1.5km walk into central Auckland, but supporters say the service is a viable interim option.
Congestion around Auckland's central city Britomart terminus inhibited a direct rail service into the CBD.
Campaign for Better Transport organiser Rob George said the Silver Fern option appealed to "cost-adverse" councils.
"For the first time we see the councils actually saying we can make this happen," Mr George said.
"With that intention I can't see any reason why this won't happen; it's been given the green light and there's no reason why it shouldn't happen particularly given costs are no longer a factor."
Mr George said a dedicated shuttle could take commuters from The Strand to key points in central Auckland.
"A train takes you from Hamilton to Auckland and a shuttle drops you off to where you want to go.
"Okay, it's not Britomart, but it gives you a door-to-door service."
Green party transport spokesman Gareth Hughes said growing consensus among the rail working group meant a Hamilton-Auckland commuter rail connection might start up next year.
"Britomart would be perfect. It's in the heart of the CBD. If anything it highlights why the Auckland CBD rail link is vital and needs to be funded as soon as possible – not just for Aucklanders, but also for Hamilton people who want to commute there."
Rail Working Group chairman and regional councillor Norm Barker on Monday said a service from Hamilton to The Strand was the best option "for now".
"With the number of suburban trains arriving at Britomart, there's no slot for an inter-regional train and we've accepted that. This is the next best option until the Auckland CBD rail loop is completed."
Mr Barker expected officials to complete a costing report on the Silver Fern option by August.
If a proposal is agreed, the working group could make recommendations to councils including funding for a service in their long term plans.
"The strong advantage of this option is people can catch a railcar in Hamilton and they can stay on that carriage right into Auckland. Some other options had people getting off at Papakura or Pukekohe and getting onto Auckland's suburban link."
Plans for a daily rail service connecting Hamilton and Auckland has gained momentum since a survey by the Waikato Regional Council late last year found strong support, with 81 per cent of Waikato residents supporting the rail link.
The most recent costings, based on KiwiRail estimates of the service's cost, suggest a daily rail link would cost ratepayers $12 more per year with taxpayer subsidies.
Without government funding, the rail service would cost ratepayers $22 each a year.
- Waikato Times