'Real difference' for people — Local authorities thrilled as first Hamilton-Auckland trains set off

Waikato is welcoming its new passenger train service from Auckland to Hamilton, which chugged away from the station today, and is looking ahead to the future.

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Sonny Witana is a 40-year veteran and conducting the first Te Huia service. Source: Breakfast

The very first train, which took off at 5.48am, was conducted by Sonny Witana.

A nearly 40-year veteran, Witana says times are changing and trains are back in vogue.

"I think people are realising, especially with climate change, that rail is the way to go," he told Breakfast this morning.

"And if you look at the rest of the world, they've all embraced it, so I guess it's up to us now."

For Waikato particularly, Witana says it's "definitely time for a train" as the population grows.

"Having this thing running out specially for Hamilton, it's great... For the whole of the wider [Waikato] community, really."

As the trains chug off, Waikato Mayor Allan Sanson is looking ahead to the future, saying today's trips represent a start for the region.

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Allan Sanson says the Hamilton-Auckland service will be a good alternative to get people out of their cars. Source: Breakfast

"And we have to start somewhere," he says, adding there are "more positives than negatives".

"This is about a modal change and actually getting people out of their cars and onto another form of transport."

As well as people heading all the way from Hamilton to Auckland, and vice versa, it'll also help commuters in smaller locations like Huntley, Pokeno and Tūākau.

"This will make a real difference for a lot of people. A lot of people are very, very excited about this," Sanson says.

It's not just workers on board the first trains. For Alian and Abdullah, aged seven and 10 respectively, it's not just their first time on Te Huia but their first time on a train at all.

Enjoying a teacher's day off, the Hamilton kids are heading to Auckland with their family for a day at Rainbow's End.

"It's weird," Alian says of his first train journey, adding the best part is the on-board café.

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For seven-year-old Alian and 10-year-old Abdullah, this is the first time they've been on a train in their lives. Source: Breakfast

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson anticipates further investment in rail to make sure there's a "genuinely connected journey there".

"I think this is a really important start and of course it's going to take time to build up, for people to factor it into their plans, but this is an option for people," he says.

"As we look ahead to our obligations around climate change and reducing emissions, we want to see people out of their cars, into public transport and this is part of that network.

"But absolutely we're going to continue to develop that network, make it as easy as possible, help to reduce congestion and ultimately help meet those climate change goals. So this is day one, we're really excited that it's got going."

Samson estimates they need around 80 per cent occupancy to keep Te Huia viable, warning if people don't use it, they might lose it.

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The Hamilton to Auckland train service has been five years in the making. Source: Breakfast

"It would be absolutely fantastic if the train was full in Hamilton and we got to Huntley and there was only standing room from there, and wouldn't it be marvelous?" he says.

"But at the end of the day, I think if we could get around between 80 and 90 per cent, I'd be pretty happy there."

Around 8000 people commute between Auckland and Waikato each day.

Te Huia takes around an hour and a half from Auckland to Papakura, where people heading on to Auckland's CBD then need to transfer for another hour-long trip to Britomart.