A plan for a rapid rail network linking Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga has been unveiled by transport lobby group Greater Auckland, which wants government backing.
In the short term, the lobby group's plan would involve a $10 million refurbishment of three 45-year-old Silver Fern railcars for basic services from Ōtāhuhu to Hamilton for a $20 fare, and to Tauranga for $35.
The second stage would see $400m spent on 17 high-speed tilt trains that could travel 160km/h on existing tracks, and extending the service south to Te Kuiti.
The final stage of the project, bringing the total spend up to $1.45 billion, would add 15 more trains and expand to Rotorua, Cambridge and Te Puke.
"It's got a very solid case. This isn't a romantic thing about bringing back something out of sentiment," said Greater Auckland spokesperson Patrick Reynolds.
"These are growing economies, this services a real need, and there's a growing population."
Mr Reynolds said more than half of the country's population lived in the triangular area served by the plan, and 70 percent of future population growth would be there.
"It's not just about getting to work in Auckland or Hamilton, but intra-regional travel as well."
He said towns such as Huntly, Te Kauwhata, Morrinsville and Te Kuiti would get a shot in the arm by being linked by passenger rail to larger cities.
"They need to get a new economic development model, and this is a programme that is focused on them, and suits them."
Mr Reynolds said the costs were not large when compared with routinely-announced roading projects, but the plan would need a nationwide entity to realise it.
"In some ways the biggest problem is because there's a lack of a national structure looking at rail - the immediate reaction from every local government source is that the other lot will pay for it."
"It really is a thing that central government has to govern centrally, and come in over the top."
The group was hoping to canvass regional backers, as well as the government.
The plan has already received enthusiastic backing from the mayors of Hamilton and Tauranga.
Hamilton mayor Andrew King said a shorter travel time was one attraction, but also the ability to work or relax on a train.
Mr King acknowledged previous attempts to run a commuter train between Hamilton and Auckland had failed.
"We have tried it before and it didn't work, but I think that trial was set to fail. I think this is a very exciting initiative and we'll get behind what we can and where we can and give support," he told RNZ.
Tauranga mayor Greg Brownless said the later stages with faster trains would cut travel time, and add tourism benefits.
"For Aucklanders seeking to come down for the weekend at the Mount [Maunganui], and vice versa, that would make it easier for them too."
He argued the cost should be carried by government transport agency NZTA, which would benefit from reduced traffic on highways.