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Friday, March 13, 2020

Getting into training

A new train service between Auckland and Hamilton beings on August 3, the Government announced yesterday. It’s proof that it is possible to overcome petty local squabbles to move our entire region forward.

There’s been talk about such a train for many, many years, but it never went anywhere as local councils dug in their heels with a “we’re not paying for it—YOU pay for it!” attitude. Each Council is now playing it’s role, probably because central government is paying the vast majority of the cost. Now that it’s about to start service, the new train can become a very big deal.

There will be two stations in Hamilton, one at Frankton and the other at the new Rotokauri Transport Hub, which isn’t far from my house—actually, nothing in Hamilton is very far from my house. Be that as it may, the park and ride facility at the transport hub will mean I can drive there, park, and take the train into Auckland for the day—saving me a lot of hassle and stress caused by dealing with traffic and parking—and, of course, in Auckland traffic often, even usually, means gridlock, and parking could easily cost more than the train ticket.

The bigger issue, though, is the future: Rapid rail. Transport Minister Phil Twyford said, “The Ministry of Transport… has work underway to investigate options for rapid rail between Hamilton and Auckland.” This matters because of the huge amount of growth happening within Hamilton and between here and Auckland. As Twyford noted, “As the Waikato and Auckland grow closer together, this new passenger train will become a crucial connection between these two major centres.” And it will. If growth continues at its current pace, sometime in the next 20 years Hamilton will likely become New Zealand’s second largest city. HALF of the country’s entire population will live in the triangle of Auckland, Hamilton, and Tauranga. Rapid rail would be a good way to move commuters along the Hamilton – Auckland route, easing congestion on the roads and making life better for commuters who have been pushed outward by Auckland’s high house prices.

Demand will push that possibility forward. Just as commuter rail in Central Auckland was moved higher on the agenda because of rising passenger numbers, so, too, will rapid rail on the Auckland – Hamilton route be moved up if people actually use the new service.

And that’s the catch.

The new Hamilton – Auckland train service has received funding through the NZ Transport Agency for only five years. While the government says, “Over that period the service will be assessed to see where improvements can be made,” the reality is that if ridership is low, it may not be continued, let alone upgraded. If Auckland’s experience is anything to go by, though, there may be pent-up demand for rail service along that route.

The only reservation I have is that I’m not sure that naming the train after an extinct bird was a good marketing move, given that this is meant to be a forward-looking project. However, there was opposition to the popular choice, “The Tron Express” (“The Tron” is a popular nickname for Hamilton), so it’s a reasonable compromise. In any case, it’s the service that matters, not its name.

This is a very important change, but, hopefully, it’s just the beginning. We’ll know in about five years.

See also:
“Hamilton-to-Auckland rail service to start in August”RNZ
“Start date set in stone for Hamilton-Auckland passenger train”Stuff.

This post is a revised and extended version of something I posted on my personal (private) Facebook.

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