A daily commuter rail service between Auckland and Hamilton is a step closer following the release of a New Zealand Transport Agency business plan outlining a service that could start in election year.
The $57.7 million budget would cover three years' operation of a peak-hour service heading to Auckland in the morning and back to Hamilton in peak-hour in the evening. It would start in March 2020 with four carriages capable of carrying 150 passengers each way, with capacity for a fifth carriage to take 200 passengers if demand warrants it.
It is currently possible to travel by train between Auckland and Hamilton on the Northern Explorer tourism train service between Auckland and Wellington, but only on alternate days in each direction.
The NZTA business case now goes before three Waikato local bodies - the regional council, district council and Hamilton City Council. Their approval in principle is required before a board meeting of NZTA, scheduled for Dec. 14, at which a final decision will be made on a service that featured as part of the Green Party's pre-election manifesto.
Government ministers also believe it will pave the way for increased commuting between the country's largest city and Waikato's main centre. The potential to extend the service to a triangular route including Tauranga has also been promoted.
Announcing the business plan and consultation process, Transport Minister Phil Twyford said the initial service would be operated by KiwiRail and stop at Frankton, The Base, Huntly, and Papakura.
“Instead of transport investment trying to play catch up, we need to lead growth and shape our towns and cities," he said. "More people are commuting between Hamilton and Auckland, and introducing this service will give them a choice in how they do that."