12 May 2017

Hamilton-to-Auckland train campaign gathers steam

10:37 am on 12 May 2017

A campaign for a daily commuter train service between Hamilton and Auckland is back on track with organisers determined to make it an election issue.

Northerner train at Hamilton train station

Photo: RNZ / Andrew McCrae

Commuter trains, which took 2 1/2 hours to complete the journey, last ran between the two cities in late 2001 after an unsuccessful 16-month trial.

Those pushing for a new service said a lot had changed in the last 16 years, including population growth, more people working in Auckland and commuting and growing house prices pushing people out of Auckland.

One of those was Dave Gammon, an electrician who lives in Hamilton but spends most of his working life in Auckland.

He heads up on a Monday and returns for the weekend. On a Monday morning he leaves home at 5am to get to Auckland at 7am.

"The reason I leave so early is because you come to a grinding halt on the motorway at Papakura and crawl from then on."

He said if a daily commuter train was available he would certainly use it.

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Sue Moroney Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

Labour list MP Sue Moroney has led the campaign for commuter trains for many years and dismissed the argument the new Waikato Expressway was the answer to travelling woes between Hamilton and Auckland.

She said that even with the rolling completion of the expressway and about $1.8 billion spent so far, the traffic commute just got slower.

"Labour's plan was to implement public transport alongside of it so we ended up getting the best bang for our buck."

"The expressway and rail should be seen [as] complementary of each other, not competing interests," she said.

The group formed to push for a commuter train, The Rail Opportunity Network, or 'Tron', said a landline phone survey it did last month showed up to 4000 people commuted daily from Hamilton to Auckland for work.

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Susan Trodden Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

Tron spokesperson Susan Trodden said that when the service last ran in 2001 it had been faster to get to Auckland by car, but things had changed considerably since then.

"Petrol costs more, and traffic congestion - we know people are allowing three hours each way.

"Broadband and the internet weren't available then but now people can work on their laptops on a train and there are more businesses that have set up satellite offices in Hamilton.

"[And] there's the housing issues in Auckland and more and more people commuting."

Ms Trodden said that for the service to work it needed support from both central and local government.

"And that means putting money in - let's not beat around the bush on that - it means they have to commit to it."

She said commuters want convenience of travel, comfort and a good price and timetable.

"The stumbling block is about money. Sure, this is not going to be a cheap option in the short term but if it is getting people off the road, if you are getting increased productivity, then I think if there is a commitment if we can demonstrate need.

"We need to just get this thing going. We could spend another year deciding should it leave at 6.30am or 6.45, or 7 or 8am. Should there be one or two or three (services a day) Right now we want to get a train or maybe two going and then we tweak it at a later stage if we have to do based on demand."

Hamilton mayor Andrew King supported the concept of a commuter train but said he wanted it using the existing Auckland trains, which would require the electrification of the line.

Mr King said that would mean a gradual rollout of the service.

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Hamilton mayor Andrew King Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

He also suggested a park-and-ride service starting at Mercer in North Waikato.

"The vehicles that come in from Tauranga and up from Waikato could park there and then (passengers) get on a fast-train from Mercer straight into Auckland.

"That service then I believe needs to be an express train, otherwise you are going to get everybody in Auckland jumping on and off it and the thing will get very congested.

"It needs to be a regular and fast service."

Tron was against the idea and wanted a full service from Hamilton straight away using a diesel train.

The group hoped to have a petition before a parliamentary select committee before the election, and a spokesperson said it was updating a viability study with Waikato University.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges said the government would consider supporting the proposal if it had a sound business case, was commercially viable, and was supported by key stakeholders.

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The Hamilton train station at Frankton. Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

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