A petition supporting the introduction of a Hamilton-Auckland commuter rail service, signed by 11,500 people, was presented by the Campaign for Better Transport today. Here’s the full press release:

11,500 Say Yes to Waikato Trains

This morning the sustainable transport group the Campaign For Better Transport presented the largest railway petition New Zealand has seen for decades in a bid to have commuter rail services between Hamilton and Auckland. It was also the largest petition on a local Hamilton and Waikato issue in a decade.

11,500 people signed the petition which is calling on the Government and its agencies, such as NZ Transport Agency and Environment Waikato, to establish the much sought after rail services.

The petition entitled “Waikato Trains NOW!” was presented to Hamilton List MP Sue Moroney by Jon Reeves, the Campaign Manager in front of an audience of over 60 members of the public. One company was so passionate about the benefits of commuter rail for her business and the region she asked all her staff to come to the presentation.

The petition was run by a huge team of Hamilton supporters of commuter rail, so it has now become a huge local issue. Jon Reeves said “the presentation of this well received petition is just the start of our Waikato Trains NOW! campaign. If we do not see any positive results from both Environment Waikato and the Government soon we have other plans to help then realise what the people and businesses of Hamilton and the Waikato want. We certainly have strong public support for the trains and it is time both the regional council and the Government jump on board.

The petition was presented to Hamilton List MP Sue Moroney, who has actively supported the idea of commuter trains between Hamilton and Auckland and would like to see them start this year. We hope that other MPs such as David Bennett and Tim MacIndoe will support the idea and support their constituents.” said Reeves.

Hamilton City Councillor Dave MacPhearson and the Mayor of Hamilton, Bob Simcock, both spoke of their support for the obvious benefits to the city and the region.

The Waikato Trains NOW! campaign is calling for three return services from Hamilton to Downtown Auckland (Britomart Station) via Newmarket. The trains would connect with direct Auckland Airport shuttle buses at Papatoetoe station and would also be the transfer point for visitors of Middlemore Hospital. The services would use Silver Fern railcars which KiwiRail currently has available. They would be refurbished with WiFi for business commuters.

The trains would also help boost Waikato businesses and could be used to showcase local wineries, cheese and chocolate products to commuters and tourists a like. Catering would be Hamilton sourced as well as the need for local staff to man and drive the trains. This is an additional bonus of having Hamilton commuter trains. And as a final touch the CBT want the abandoned Hamilton Central underground station to be reopened to enable business commuters and tourists to travel from downtown Hamilton to downtown Auckland direct and relaxed, without traffic congestion, road accidents or parking problems.

“I would like to thank residents of Hamilton, Ngaruawahia, Huntly and Te Kauwhata for jumping on board and supporting this petition. I would also like to thank all our Waikato team for talking to thousands of people and letting them know who supports commuter rail and who does not”.

This is a great idea for so many reasons, and I can see a service between Auckland and Hamilton being popular for a number of different types of trips. For a start, there are those who live in Hamilton (or nearby towns) and work in Auckland – apparently quite a number of people do that amazingly long trip each day. Then there are those whose work takes them between cities: for business meetings or whatever other reasons – I think this would be a pretty significant number of people, hopefully catered for by a 9am service leaving Auckland heading to Hamilton, which returns from Hamilton to Auckland at around 3.00 – enabling people to conduct their meetings between 11am and 3pm.

The big advantage of being able to make this trip by train is that the time spent in the train can be productive. I see high quality carriages with tables so that people can work away on their laptops, or do a bit of paperwork before meetings. Hopefully the train would have inbuilt WiFi, although over time that might not be so essential as more people have mobile broadband.

And then of course it will be useful for tourists. Considering that a commercially viable train operates between Palmerston North and Wellington – both smaller cities than Hamilton and Auckland respectively – surely one would think in the longer run this would work financially. With 11.500 people signing a petition in support of such a service, one would hope that it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a reality.

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  1. Similar services are successful all around the world and it would be no different here – plus in the long term, allow growth in Hamilon rather than it all being in Auckland has benefits for both cities. I am guessing a large park and ride facility in Hamilton would be an important addition as not so many people will be within walking distance of the train stop in Hamilton.

  2. The idea seems to be quite popular in Hamilton and at least one councilor and the mayor support it. So why doesn’t Hamilton City Council establish and operate the service? There would be no need to involve central government and the service will be up and running as soon as KiwiRail gets the carriages out of storage and the WiFi installed.

  3. Would also be perfect for sporting events, such as the cricket and rugby since both stadia are very close to the railway. Would also be useful moving people between Auckland and Hamilton for the rugby world cup.

  4. (Hi everyone) There are a number of challenges to this very worthwhile idea. The following is a rapid distillation of my thoughts over the past 15yrs on this…
    I know there are many, many people who commute from Hamilton, but also Te Awamutu, Cambridge, or even further afield, to Auckland on a daily or otherwise basis. This service would appeal to them as it eliminates a large chunk of driving and gives them that time as useable productive time.
    First] and foremost, the track alignment+infrastructure has to support at least 120km/h running for much of its length, otherwise it is simply not a viable or attractive alternative to the car. Forget it! Good God, it is only 1h40m for the 125kms from Ham to Akl (well… Greenlane then it can all change! 😉 by road, yet it can take rail 2+ hours (Overlander: 2h20m)?!!
    Second a] and tied to first, the timetable/s need/s to be attractive to a range of patrons. On the previous attempt in the early part of this century, trains left Hamilton before 6am in the morning to make it to Auckland by 8am. This could mean a 4:30/5am alarm, and an arrival back in Hamilton sometime around 7:30+. That’s a loooooong day.
    Second b] the weekend needs different timetables to be more family friendly.
    Third] trains need to terminate in Hamilton somewhere other than Frankton (which has lots of parking, but is out of the way) or Ham Central (central, but has zero parking, but is just over the road from the main Bus Centre). I’ve often pondered where that might be and arrive at 2 possibilities:
    1. Solway/River Road car park;
    -Advs: right next to a large car park that conveniently serves the East side; access already there; room enough for a platform;
    -Disadvs: sends market wrong signals re: car use; only 500m from Central, so would cause a very short initial hop; 500m from, so of limited appeal to, Claudelands Events Centre events (A&P shows, Winter shows, etc); no room for a passing loop;
    2. The old Claudelands railway yard site;
    Advs: [some] land is still available as development there is not too intense; right over the road from the Claudelands Events Centre; easily accessed from inner-city arterial roads; serves the East side but not as clearly/easily as Solway; probably room for a passing loop;
    Disadvs: now somewhat covered in all sorts of buildings and things in a very (but typically) shortsighted town-planning kind of way; limited space due to location (but nothing a dollop of cash couldn’t solve, I’m sure ;); 1km from Central, so that short hop is still there.

    I am all in favour of this succeeding. I’d love it to be there, and I’d use it, and there’s no real reason for it not to be (except political will, and $$). But given the dismal lack of investment and woeful planning foresight it is pretty much going to have to be built from the ground up, and will have to be done right, right from the start because a) there’s no 21stC passenger rail infrastructure there, and b) the competition from the road will be waaay too strong until petrol at least doubles in price. If it is not properly and comprehen$ively done from the start, Forget It! (again)

  5. Oops – pays to do a smidgen of research first:
    “The Waikato Connection was a commercial service between Hamilton and Auckland operated by Tranz Scenic which commenced in June 2000 and was terminated in October 2001. It was a daily service departing Hamilton at 6.15am and arriving at Auckland at 8.11am with stops at Huntly, Pukekohe, Papakura, Middlemore and Newmarket. The evening service departed Auckland at 5.19pm arriving Hamilton at 7.13pm. The service used Silver Fern diesel railcars.” http://www.ew.govt.nz/PageFiles/2322/hamiltonToAucklandCommuterRailStudy.pdf (sec 4.1 p23) [The report makes interesting reading.]

    However, it still doesn’t alter the basic thrust of my comment. A new Vision of [public] transport is needed, and a Commitment to that vision is required by the local bodies involved. Both are challenges.

  6. At 2 hours I’d rather sit on a train than drive for 1 hour 40. Either way it’s a long journey and only one has the potential to be productive whilst the other is guaranteed to make you arrive stressed out by traffic.

  7. If only we measured “productive time savings benefits”, rather than just measuring all time the same. Something like this could offer huge productive time benefits.

  8. Re: the train between PN and Wellington.
    This is looking less commercially viable by the day as the double-tracking/electrification to Waikanae. There is even talk of canning the whole thing one that construction is completed.

  9. It has been a great effort and I hope services start however the government ignored a petition of 42,000 about nightclasses late last year…

  10. 1:40hr to drive Ham – AKL? Yes, in a perfect world on a perfect day with the perfect level of traffic to drive in 1:40 is possible.

    Now to be realistic. Yesterday on my way to Hamilton to present the petition I witnessed traffic from Papakura to Auckland completely STOPPED at 7:20am! There is absolutely no way you can drive Hamilton to Akl central in peak mornings in 1:40hr. The Silver Ferns can do it in between 1:50 – 2 hours thanks to their uprated bogies. Of course a stop at Te Kauwhata may add 2 to 3 minutes to the trip time.

    Hamilton City is FULLY behind commuter rail. As a local body it is not for them to fund PT..that is up to the Regional Council and NZTA/Govt. However, HCC has a pool of about $400K to help with the set up.

    It is Environment Waikato and the Govt/NZTA who are NO prepared to fund rail, as they only want the costly Waikato Expressway to be built. Even though this is 10-12 years away from completion. The Expressway will cost at least $2 billion and NEVER make any money and require subsidies from ratepayers/taxpayers and motorists.

    Part of the plan by HCC is to build a station at Te Rapa ( The Base) for park and rides.

    The Campaign For Better Transport wants 3 services each way (weekdays) to start off. This offers a early morning, midday and early evening service for commuters and tourists.

    Interestingly enough, HCC Cr Dave MacPhearson has this website you can vote on if the Govt should fund the trains. Happy voting: http://davemacpherson.blogspot.com/

    The Time Is NOW for Waikato Commuter Trains!

    1. Hi Jon. I cannot attend the public meeting in Te Kauwhata tomorrow 20 July to support the commuter train. I am a TK resident. How can I support the commuter train. Cheers

  11. I know my parents would be well keen to use a service such as this as they HATE driving in Auckland these days and avoid it as much as possible, so unless I go to see them in Hamilton, I never get to see them.

    They would definitely use this service fairly regularly.

  12. A word of caution on using the Capital Connection example (further to what Nathan earlier):

    The Palmerston North – Levin portion of the route is effectively a positioning run that happens to carry passengers. It is the intermediate towns that provide the patronage that makes it (currently) profitable.

    A Hamilton – Auckland service will rely mostly on patronage from Hamilton as there are no decent sized towns (10k+) between there and Pukekohe.

  13. The Silver Fern service was stopped in 2001 at about the time that West Coast Rail took over what was then Tranz-Scenic. The loadings into Hamilton weren’t actually that strong, even after a year,

    As an intermediate option, and as a way to test the market, why not sort out a decent coach operation to connect with the trains at Papakura?

    In terms of a midday train, I think you would find that Intercity (buses) already have that market tidied up.

  14. I know that there are differences but ARTA was able to run a trial to Helensville for a year (and according to their numbers they only got about 25 people/day using it) … why can’t a similar trial be run for Hamilton?
    It may be difficult to actually deliver that service because it would mean to plan the trains in the southern line to “give way” to that train and some juggling may be required at Britomart to receive it but to me all those are small technical issues that will be overcome if the will is there (and more than 20 people use that service!!)

  15. Ross: “The loadings into Hamilton weren’t actually that strong, even after a year,”

    How strong is “weren’t actually that strong”? Do we have a situation where plenty of people are happy to sign a petition in favour of trains, but in practice no one wants to actually use them and everyone assumes that “someone else” will pay for the service? One way to test the proposition would be to have Hamilton CC or the regional council fund the service… then people could factor in the effect on their rates bill when they signed a petition.

  16. Obi, there was one recent survey that showed very strong support for minor rate increases to pay for the service.

    My understanding is that the old Waikato Connection had become quite popular toward the end of its time and was considered self sustaining. The main problem is Tranzscenic cancelled the whole upper north island system in one go, Rotorua, Tauranga and Hamilton. Arguably they should have kept the Hamilton run but it was a politically motivated move so the whole lot was canned.

  17. Obi, why not test whether the Waterview and Northwestern motorway projects are popular enough by asking whether people are keen to add their costs to the rates bill. Waitakere / Auckland City (and their successor, Auckland Council) will be spending megabucks on local tie-in work, and have already spent massive amounts of consultancy fees on this job. That doesn’t even begin to include the money they lose because local road and public transport co-funding money has been diverted to motorways.

    What I am saying is “Why do you propose rail should be handled differently than other regional transport projects?” Of course some people will gripe and vote no when asked “Do you want to pay for this?”

    A trial service can be stopped if it doesn’t catch on. Wonder who will pay us back the money we wasted on eight laned motorways when they become empty at peak fuel time?

  18. Too true, Max, more people might be willing to catch the bus and utilise existing road space if they were given a choice between lower taxes and a big new motorway…

  19. Well there is always the option of cancelling all funding for transport services, and tolling all roads and setting all public transport fares to cover the full and total cost of their use.

    Then I think we would see some changes in what people are willing to use and what they would want built.

  20. I guess people would argue roads don’t need to be tolled as they pay for themselves via RUC and fuel taxes…

  21. State highways maybe Jeremy, but remember that 50% of local roads are funded from rates. So actually they really don’t “pay their way”.

  22. Oh of course there are the huge hidden subsidies, but local government rates are something fairly obvious that will make sense to Joe Average, so worthwhile bringing up in such a discussion.

  23. The life and death of the 2000-2001 Waikato Connection is documented in the http://www.ew.govt.nz/PageFiles/2322/hamiltonToAucklandCommuterRailStudy.pdf paper in Section 4, pdf page 23.

    I agree with you Jon, HCC has been slowly coming round to understanding the place passenger rail can have in Hamilton’s transport mesh. Cr MacPherson has been particularly consistent in his support over many years. The recent positive noises are in contrast to the seeming brush-off I got when in 2004 I made a submission to the HCC suggesting things like the Base station, and other things. Interestingly there seems to have been a small flurry of activity after that so not everyone wasn’t listening… (I know others made similar submissions about the same time – weight of numbers perhaps?)

    EW’s response is disappointing, but not unsurprising given the mandate of 6 of the current councillors’ election platform (effectively “no new rates”); in that respect they are being consistent.

    And yes – it’s been 3 years since I did the Auckland run anywhere near morning peak, so I might be a little out of date 😉 Makes the Ferns look good now, huh?!

  24. I would like to support a commuter train, Auckland-Hamilton stopping in Te Kauwhata. I am unable to attend the public meeting tomorrow 20 July. Is there something I can do to show my support.

  25. Here’s an article about Waikato Regional Passenger Transport Plan (http://consultation.waikatoregion.govt.nz/portal/transport-policy/rptp/rptpconsultation?pointId=s1414876440449#section-s1414876440449), which is open for submissions until 15 December 2014 –
    Funding clouds rail link – Franklin County News – By SHAUN EADE 11-11-2014

    The Waikato Regional Council will support a passenger rail service from Tuakau to Pukekohe, but only if someone else pays.

    Its 10-year plan for public transport, which was released for public consultation last Friday, listed an inter-regional passenger rail service as a option in the medium to long term.

    The plan stated there was ‘‘a more immediate need’’ to consider a rail link between Tuakau and Auckland and that discussions between the regional council, Waikato District Council and Auckland Transport were ongoing.

    But while the inclusion of the rail link in the transport plan was a positive sign for the town, which has long campaigned for one, funding remains the biggest hurdle.

    The regional council is responsible for ‘‘the planning, management and provision of public transport in the Waikato region’’ but spokesman, Stephen Ward, said it does not believe it should pay for the service.

    ‘‘The committee noted support for the concept of a passenger rail service between Tuakau and Auckland, on the basis that Auckland should provide funding for this project due to the benefit to the Auckland community,’’ he said.

    But he said during earlier discussions ‘‘that Auckland Transport had advised they have no funding for such a service’’.

    Auckland Transport spokesman Mark Hannan said it wasn’t allowed to pay for the rail service.

    ‘‘The Local Government Act requires local government organisations to work for the benefit of residents in their area. One local government organisation cannot fund services in the area of another,’’ he said.

    ‘‘At present, we contract very limited bus services into the Waikato [and] the local share proportion is funded by the Waikato District Council.’’ He believed an upgraded bus service would be the best option to link Auckland to the Waikato.

    But Ward said a Hamilton to Auckland rail link has been discussed for a long time.

    ‘‘A comprehensive investigation and report was undertaken by a multiparty working group back in 2011 and at that time the partners agreed not to proceed with the proposal based on a number of reasons involving rolling stock, infrastructure and funding,’’ he said.

    ‘‘The question of an AucklandTuakau link came up at Regional Transport Committee [again] in early March this year.’’ The regional council did not have exact figures for the cost of a train service from Pukekohe to Tuakau, but in 2010 a proposed Papatoetoe to Hamilton service was estimated to cost $1.97 million a year.

    Tuakau does not have a train platform, but last month a Waikato District Council spokeswoman confirmed it still had money set aside for one.

    ‘‘Council has allocated $500,000 towards this project, however, the actual timing and implementation will be reviewed during the 2015-2025 Long Term Plan process,’’ she said.

    ‘‘We will be presenting this information to the community and community boards over the next couple of months.’’

  26. It is a great idea but I wonder if it would ever take off. On the positive side, housing is a lot cheaper in Hamilton so a commuter work force would be able to offset the train costs against cheaper rent. Would people see it that way though? Half empty trains would mean very expensive fares and full trains would be a chore. No one would be surfing the internet if the carriages were full up and if you had to stand, like many people do abroad on commuter trains, 2 hours would seem unbearable compared to the comfort of your own car.
    Hopefully a solution can be found.

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