We’ve long been supporters of extending passenger rail services to Hamilton and have written about it on numerous occasions. Done well, it could provide not only a useful transport service but also open a new front to help combat Auckland’s housing crisis.
The idea of a rail service between Auckland and Hamilton was last looked at in 2011. On Tuesday, the Council’s Planning Committee agreed to take a high-level look at the issue again – although they also noted that that it was considered a low priority for the council, which is understandable given doesn’t exactly have its own house in order on transport issues. The high-level review agreed to includes to:
identify the key constraints, benefits and options of a passenger rail service between Auckland/Hamilton, including an updated assessment of customer demand, with a recommendation as to whether or not to proceed towards a detailed feasibility study
The agenda item followed on from work done by various council’s and transport agencies to review the previous 2011 report. They say the key conclusions of that review are:
- There has been no real change in the transport policy context since 2011;
- Network access at the Auckland end is a very real constraint;
- There is no suitable rolling stock immediately available for a Hamilton to Auckland commuter service;
- There are no funding sources and the current estimate of costs would need to be updated to reflect current conditions;
- Overall, the 2011 proposal is no longer practically feasible for today’s conditions.
On the network access point, some later comments break that down with more detail
- After the City Rail Link is completed, diesel services can no longer operate into and out of Britomart and network capacity is limited. It is likely that services would need to terminate in south Auckland with the inconvenience of a change of train;
- The Auckland network is very congested in peak periods, which would make timetabling a regular and convenient service problematic;
The full review of the previous study can be found here. Below is the service that was proposed.
At over two hours per trip and only a handful of trips a day it will always be hard sell and one of the key reasons the 2011 study didn’t get any further than it did (that and no one could agree who should pay for it). In my view, if we were to do this it’s critical we get those journey times down. Some of that could come from faster rolling stock, like tilt trains that Harriet suggested last year but it also requires improvements to the tracks in Auckland. The most important project in that regard is of course the third main and that has also been in the news this week but not for the right reasons.
Given the importance of the project to improving the rail network we were surprised that that the project wasn’t included in this year’s budget. But even before that were keen to see what the business case said about project so Harriet OIA’d Kiwirail to get a copy. On Tuesday Winston Peters revealed leaked emails in parliament showing that the Transport Minister’s office was trying to block it being released to her.
Transport Minister Simon Bridges has been caught trying to block an official information request for details about a proposed new $50 million Auckland railway line.
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters tabled an email trail in Parliament yesterday showing that Mr Bridges’ office repeatedly urged KiwiRail last week not to release a business case on Auckland’s proposed third main railway track.
Initially, his officials opposed the document being released, saying it was part of an unsuccessful budget bid, but were told by KiwiRail on Thursday that the law was clear it should be released.
After consulting its legal team, KiwiRail told Mr Bridge’s office it would struggle to justify not releasing it.
But on Friday Mr Bridges’ office again urged KiwiRail not to release the business plan.
This time it used a scatter-gun approach – arguing the report was only a draft, was on a misleading template and that its proposed release was making them “extremely uncomfortable”.
You really have to wonder what is so bad in the business case that the government wouldn’t want it released. Perhaps it has something to do with it being only expected to cost around $50 million, chicken feed next to crazy projects like the $1.8 billion East-West Link. At that price it probably has a stellar Benefit Cost Ratio, one that would make many of the government’s various motorway projects look silly.