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Auckland to Hamilton passenger rail service wins Waikato council backing

Waikato District Council has endorsed a business case for a passenger rail service between Hamilton and Auckland by early 2020.

Britomart train station (file picture). Source: istock.com

The business case seeks central government funding for a start-up service between the two cities and was passed at a specially-convened council meeting today.

The council agreed that $240,000 funding set aside in the Long Term Plan to support a Tuakau rail facility would be re-allocated for the development of facilities at the Huntly rail station, such as shelter, lighting, CCTV, pedestrian access and a park-and-ride, to meet the requirements of the business case to get a start-up service operational by early 2020.

The council also agreed that a passenger rail facility at Tuakau must be a priority, given the existing population and planned growth in the area. This will be considered as part of work on the Hamilton to Auckland Corridor Plan. 

The council also agreed to lead a separate business case for a train station at Te Kauwhata to be considered in year three of the start-up passenger rail service.

Total funding needed for the project is $76.27 million over the first six years, from 2019 to 2024, with $66.81 million coming from central government's National Land Transport Fund, and the balance from local government, mostly via Waikato Regional Council rating, with financial assistance from the New Zealand Transport Agency, and rail fare revenue.

The business case has already been endorsed by the Waikato Regional Council and now awaits endorsement from Hamilton City Council before it goes to the NZTA board on December 14.

Labour said in its 2017 election policy it will create a passenger rail service linking Auckland, Hamilton, and Tauranga and, if justified by demand, upgrade it in stages to a rapid rail network throughout the 'Golden Triangle' between those three cities.

1 NEWS NOW reported in June that Transport Minister Phil Twyford wouldn't commit to a timeline for an Auckland to Hamilton passenger train line, and that inside Government reports indicated it's unlikely to be up and running this Parliamentary term.

Documents obtained under the Official Information Act revealed the "quickest and easiest" option for a passenger rail connection between Auckland and Hamilton would be late 2019 using diesel hauled "refurbished" carriages.

But feedback to the Government on this fast-tracked "interim option" rail line had been largely negative, and made a 2019 delivery date for a passenger rail appear highly optimistic.

An the NZTA and Auckland and Waikato councils - two of the three regional council funding partners needed to get any form of passenger rail up and running - had rejected the "interim option".

Mr Twyford also distanced the Government from direct funding responsibility for a rail service, saying it's now NZTA's decision.

Waikato District Mayor Allan Sanson said after today's council meeting, "This is a critical initiative for our district to ensure we can deliver a vision of liveable, thriving and connected communities as our growth continues to accelerate, and that we can provide a choice of transport for district residents who need to commute to work in Auckland or Hamilton."

Deputy Mayor Dynes Fulton told the meeting the business case for the rail link "has been a very robust process". 

"We worked across boundaries with Hamilton City and Waikato Regional Council and others. I congratulate everyone involved for the goodwill that enabled this to happen so quickly. I look forward to seeing the service develop over time," he said.