In what seems like a lifetime ago now but was only August we released Regional Rapid Rail to much fanfare. It was quickly adopted by both the Greens and Labour and appears likely to become a cornerstone of the $1 billion per annum Regional Development (Provincial Growth) fund that is central to the Labour/NZ First coalition agreement. In short, with a new Government Regional Rapid Rail is now a serious possibility and appears incredibly well suited to the Regional Development Fund. So what do we need to think about?

Originally, when we developed Regional Rapid Rapid earlier this year, we wanted to try to get all major political parties to sign up to it. As part of trying to get National to support the concept (which unfortunately they never did), we thought it would be good to focus on a staged approach that could get something on the ground at low cost. Then we would progressively build on the success over time. This approach is summarised below:

It’s fair to say we were in two minds about this approach. On the one hand, we wanted to find a way of getting something up and running quickly and cheaply – essentially a “non-scary” way of getting broad support for the idea. But on the other hand, we didn’t want to sell the concept short by running slow, old trains. The key point of Regional Rapid Rail is that this is a step-change in better connecting Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga much faster than would ever be possible by car. This requires fast trains and network upgrades – Stage 2 of the concept.

Jumping straight to Stage 2 means that for what is still a relatively low cost, we can achieve most of what the whole concept seeks to deliver, especially in relation to supporting a revitalisation of railway towns in the northern Waikato like Ngaruawahia, Huntly and Te Kauwhata.

Accelerating Stage 2, while also preparing for Stage 3, requires a number of next steps if we are to get it up and running in the next 5-6 years (as a point of reference, City Rail Link opens in around six years time, before CRL trains would have to terminate somewhere like Otahuhu as there are not enough available train slots into Britomart).

Here are some of the key next steps:

Protecting the Corridors: In Regional Rapid Rail we proposed a new Bombay deviation of the North Island Main Truck, a Whangamarino realignment of the current single track swamp section and a potential updated Hamilton underground station. It is imperative that the rail corridor, as well as all future stations, are protected so are available when needed. It is also possible that the Southern Motorway could be widened to Drury at the same time as the extension of the electrification due to overbridges. It is imperative that these works are future proofed for Regional Rapid Rail. Too many times have we not protected corridors and it has cost a fortune to do later or has meant a project can’t go ahead.

Bombay Deviation (Red = Tunnel, Green = Surface, Black = Existing)

New Rolling Stock: Consider procurement of the new dual-mode tilt train rolling stock as soon as possible. The power of new rolling stock should not be under-estimated with Aucklanders flocking to the network since electrification the same sort of benefit would exist by providing new fit for purpose rolling stock with the range of passenger conveniences expected for longer distance intercity trips, including comfortable high-backed seats, tray tables, USB charging, tray tables and onboard Wi-Fi. Other facilities would include wheelchair accessible toilets, drinking fountains and luggage racks.

Auckland Side Works: The Labour and Greens both supported during the campaign the third main as well as the upgrade of Puhinui station. Getting these integral upgrades done as soon as possible will assist Regional Rapid Rail. The Government should also investigate if the CRL can be sped up in any way. The faster the CRL is completed the faster we can get Regional Rapid Rail into the City Centre proper.

Investigate Capital Connection Regional Rapid Rail: The Capital Connection between Palmerston North and Wellington is another corridor a Regional Rapid Rail service could work for. With upgraded trains, some track works and more frequent all-day service, as opposed to the once a day service at current the service, will be much more viable for people to use suiting a range of travel times and trip purposes, serving commuters, tourists, students and residents alike.

Integration with KiwiBuild: KiwiBuild is likely to be one of the top priorities for this new Government with the proposal to build 100,000 high quality, affordable homes over 10 years. Smart integration with KiwiBuild especially its proposed Affordable Housing Authority using Regional Rapid Rail infrastructure to help enables more affordable housing with decent transport options. In yesterday’s article, Phil Twyford the new Transport, Housing and Urban Development Minister mentioned this in regards to KiwiBuild and the Southwest-Airport Light Rail Corridor

Labour’s plans for a 20km light rail track within four years rom the Wynyard Quarter and up Queen St in Auckland’s CBD to Auckland International Airport offered significant development opportunity.

“We’re looking at creating an urban development company for the whole zone, an investment of billions of dollars. It will have a massive effect on the development potential alongside the lines and stations. This is how Cross Rail has been done in London. They used an urban development company to optimise opportunities around the stations to get apartments and retail,” he said, also citing the Gold Coast’s G:Link.

This model would also be perfect for Regional Rapid Rail.

It’s my hope that the new Government will be committed to Regional Rapid Rail and Phil Tywfords comments the other day indicate so. It was very popular, it not outrageously expensive, even Stage 3 is comparable to some RONS and has the ability to act as a catalyst for a large scale of regional development.

If you have not given the full Regional Rapid Rail report a read I highly recommend (though admittedly I am a little biased).

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  1. Is it even possible to have high speed tilt-trains on our existing narrow gauge track? Europe and USA have much wider rails than ours, which makes it safer to tilt. If you’re going to build new lines and want it real fast then you might as well copy the Japanese style and go with Maglev 🙂

      1. I’ve *stood* on one for more than three and half hours in Hokkaido, without realising it was a tilt train. Which is a good indication of both how comfortable they can be, and how popular they can be.

        1. That’s the whole point of a tilt train, they compensate for the inertia around corners precisely so you don’t feel like you are tilting!

    1. Network improvements will be required before any fast/tilting train could reach its potential.
      Current network is fit for slow freight and already near capacity to Tauranga.
      These can easily be overcome for a cost and hopefully it gets momentum

  2. I honestly believe having high quality infrastructure (i.e. fast modern trains) can be the biggest draw. Good quality infrastructure confirms that there was some thought put towards the service, that someone cares about the way it looks (and presumably runs). Impression is very important when it comes to attracting new customers.

    1. Agree, although we proved in Auckland that if you put on a semi-decent service with old refurbished trains people will flock as well.

      Stage I does make me nervous though, not so much through old slow trains, but the fact it doesn’t run to Britomart.

      1. Ditto. Aucklanders put up with decrepit commuter trains but this is asking more, though the updated Fern furnishings don’t look bad. Having old, unreliable trains starting this service was my biggest worry about this project.

        I’d much prefer we purchase a tranche of new trains (use QR tilt train design?)for a number of regional services not just this area, or look to see if Japan has some good condition 2nd hand trains from the many regional limited express trains that also include quite a few diesel ones running in various parts of the country (esp. Hokkaido and Shikoku).

        An issue with the latter idea is that each JR regional company (and private companies) seems to have it’s own models and designs for limited express trains so there is a lack of standardisation, and therefore significant numbers of the same and similar models operating across the nation so it would probably be difficult to purchase enough of the same model.

        Compared to a few years ago, I think the Britomart thing isn’t as big an issue anymore (Still preferable but). Why? Because we have much better connectivity than before. Pax getting off at Otahuhu can easily transfer to another bus or train for heading to a different part of Auckland. Going to the CBD from Otahuhu is not going to be a long wait. Also, there are other cities around the world where regional intercity trains do not terminate in the centre.

        One other suggestion I have, being employed in the airline industry, specific to the AKL-HAM route is to try and broker an agreement with an airline to codeshare on it and therefore have a sales channel for this train on the airline’s website and say the train to Tauranga, and latterly Rotorua. Since Air NZ dropped out of doing flights to HAM from AKL and v.v. no major airline operates that route, which is unique for inter-regional travel in NZ.

        At the moment people in Hamilton can’t buy ex HAM international fares via AKL because there are no HAM-AKL flights but the trains could change that. Already some airlines Lufthansa, Air France, Tahiti nui etc offer fares that include segments operated by trains. Earlier tbis year I was transiting via Vienna and saw all the Vienna-Linz “flights” listed on the departures screens were infact trains with Austrian Airways codeshare flight numbers.

        Even though there are air services AKL-TRG & ROT, there could still be room for a train service to complement the flights and give an airline an extra service to offer customers (especially if there isn’t an existing connecting flight for inbound international pax – often the case for early evening international arrivals where the last domestic regional flight leaves at 6 or 7pm and there isn’t enough connex time for a valid onward flight leaving pax with a drive after potentially a long international flight, or a night in Auckland).

        Therefore partnering up with an airline has potential commercial advantages that could help popularise a regional rail service, should that service be a high quality, reliable one acceptable to the airline. Offering additional sales channels to buy tickets for this train (in conjunction with an international fare), marketing support which would aid the service’s visibilty with the general public, and if included in the airline’s loyalty scheme, a further attraction for some people to use this service.

        1. Having intercity trains run CBD – Onehunga – airport – Wiri – south wouldn’t be too much of a diversion, and certainly provide a good limited stops express service for airport travel.

        2. I just checked how long it would take me to get to Otahuhu Train Station from my place in Pt Chev. It’s one hour 18 minutes, using 2 or 3 legs, and no consistency – the first leg might be the 007, the 133 or the Outerlink, so that’s three different bus stops to be checking the real time board for.

          Compare that with half an hour for taking my usual familiar bus route into town.

          “Compared to a few years ago, I think the Britomart thing isn’t as big an issue anymore.”

          I reckon having one central train station is important.

  3. Would be good to see CRL completed earlier.
    In the meantime a small upgrade to the Strand should work especially if a Strand stop can be added to one of the lines (thinking Eastern) this would then service that part of CBD/ports/Spark Arena.

    1. I want the CRL now, not 6 years time! 🙂

      The Strand is an embarrassment. No other way to put it. I don’t know how long they’ve been in place, however I did actually notice signage directing pedestrians to The Strand from Beach Rd – That’s the positive. The negative (sadly) is that the signage is small, well above eye level and refers to distances rather than landmarks and distance. The result is that you see a sign saying “60m left” and think of how far away it is. It’s like following a trail of breadcrumbs, but without any gingerbread at the end of it.

      I may come from an engineering background, but I’m also a visual person – Give me a damn landmark in the directions!

      I still think that they need to work a tunnel or bridge from The Strand to Te Taou Cres – More direct sightlines and at least a 100m shorter route.

      1. A pedestrian direct access to the old Stand station would be a great move, especially as it is currently used for long distance train.

        Should RRR terminate at the Strand then AT would need to add a bus service at least to and from Britomart to make the long distance services more user friendly.

        1. i agree, rapid rail users would have a multitude of destinations within the metro area post crl rather than all wanting to alight at britomart i imagine.

    2. A Strand stop on the Eastern Line seems too obvious, the entrance to Britomart has long been a slow down / stop section on both lines to enter, so there would be little time lost in stopping properly at The Strand. It would also provide the connection for the Northern Explorer passengers to Britomart or Orakei (if they really need a refreshment at Brothers). Access also needs to be upgraded from Te Taou to make the Arena escape easier (with the amount of ex young groups touring these days there is a good case for making this venue more third age friendly. And everybody appreciates a straight line after three hours on your feet. Of course Parnell station somehow ended up in a incredibly illogical postion (unless you fancy a short uphill stroll to the museum) so the obvious is obviously not so obvious to all. Connectivity is the key and rail is the most efficient method available. It would appear to require very little station extension to add The Strand to the Eastern Line. A little more for better pedestrian access to Te Taou, but ultimately more than worthwhile. If the port is moved North, we could be looking at an international quality entertainment district between Britomart and The Strand, so accessibility will be paramount. And on that digression, if the “America’s” Cup is the motivation to move all the cars of our valuable wharves and reclaim the downtown docks for residents, then so be it. Whangarei will appreciate Auckland’s benevolence! And who wouldn’t love to be able to catch a train to the Mount from central Auckland (aside from those that live there already)?

  4. With Stage 1 of Regional Rapid Rail, in order for the Tauranga service to be a success, it needs to run right through to Mt Maunganui, as this is where many people go from Auckland for weekends away, holidays etc and if you want people to seriously consider using trains they have to run to places where many people go to.

    Likewise the stations for the new services need to be well located within easy walking distance of where many people want to go such as on the corner of Rata St and Totara Street in the heart of Mt Maunganui’s CBD and on Dive Crescent on Tauranga’s waterfront (with a new station and platform located on the rail siding there next to the council car park and bus stop, which will keep the main line clear for freight trains while the train is stopped at the platform) which is near to The Strand in Tauranga’s CBD.

    New stations also need to be opened in the Waikato with reopening and upgrading the Hamilton Central underground station in Hamilton’s CBD (with direct connections to local and intercity buses above), also next to The Base shopping centre at Te Rapa to serve the massive retail complex here.

    Commuter stations are very much needed at Ngaruawahia, Huntly, Te Kauwhata, Pokeno and Tuakau which will result in plenty of patronage for the new Hamilton-Auckland services.

    A new station is really needed at Drury on the site of the original next to the Southern Motorway and Great South Rd with a large park and ride, where it will be in full view and easily accessed from the motorway for out of town commuters to use.

    With the Capital Connection, a trial should be made of running a return service with the existing train from Wellington to Palmerston North via the Wairarapa line and Woodville during the middle of the day.

    This would provide Northern Wairarapa towns with a new daily rail passenger service as well as providing a second daily service between Wellington and Palmerston North and would also provide an alternative transport option between Woodville and Palmerston North while the Manawatu Gorge Road is closed.

    1. I’ve long believed that Tauranga to Mt Maunganui is over due for a regular commuter service, so extending a RRR to Mt Maunganui would be a logical extension.

    2. RE: Drury – Yeah, I used to have a colleague who lived in Waiuku and commuted in to the CBD. Then they started taking the train from Papa K. If there was parking @ Drury that would’ve suited them much more.

      1. A station at Drury and possibly two are likely to be done as part of the extension of the electrification to Puke.

        1. I know it’s still early days and there is much to catch up on but if electrification to Pukekohe is now likely has anyone yet suggested going the whole hog and filling in the gap to Te Rapa?

    3. I’m really not seeing how a non-peak passenger rail service for the northern-Wairarapa area would be viable. The last regular passenger services on this part of the network have been gone just over 29 years (officially terminated from 1/Aug/1988) because residents there just didn’t use the trains (at the end, passenger numbers per trip were typically low enough that they could have been taken on a bus). To whom would this intra-peak Palmerston North — Wellington return service be aimed at? Clearly not commuters, and a significant portion of this route is already well served by Hutt Valley EMU services and the Wairarapa Connection. IIRC, GWRC also have plans for future enhancement of the Wairarapa Connection to increase capacity and service frequency. The old ’80s passenger trains between Palmerston North and Masterton were run sort-of like an extension of what is now the Wairarapa Connection. To run a new service on the Wairarapa Line separate from the existing services there (and it likely would be a separate service, as existing Wairarapa Line services are run solely under contract to GWRC whereas the Capital Connection has a somewhat more complicated arrangement) would introduce unnecessary complications and would be a rather expensive way to serve a small clientele.

      The only towns of note on the direct route between Palmerston North and Masterton are Ashhurst, Woodville, Pahiatua, and Eketahuna. If you live in Ashhurst, you’re close enough to Palmerston North that you’d just drive there rather than catching a train. The other towns are small enough (in population) that the number of people potentially interested in using a rail service for commuting or casual purposes is probably too small to justify multiple return services per day. Even among the commuters that could be persuaded to use a rail service, they’d be divided between those working in Palmerston North or the wider Manawatu region, and those working in Masterton or more southerly locales in Wairarapa, the Hutt Valley, or even Wellington. This would no doubt cause something of a headache for rolling stock/crew availability, service scheduling, etc. Which direction would you run the trains in to best serve commuters at the times they’d want to get to work? The largest town in the district, Dannevirke, is on the Palmerston North — Gisborne Line and so would not have a direct connection to such services. If you live in Dannevirke and wanted to travel to Palmerston North or further south into Wairarapa, why would you drive to Woodville to catch a train on a limited schedule when you could just stay in your car and keep driving to your destination as you do now? While it is true that all of the aforementioned towns on the direct route between Palmerston North and Masterton still have at least a passenger platform at their former station sites, if not their fully intact railway stations, there’d still be capital works required to reintroduce a passenger service. The Manawatu Gorge situation is temporary and not really the basis for setting up a new service that would only potentially enjoy viable patronage for a few years.

      1. Surely a service that helps overcome the present problem with the Manawatu Gorge that operates for 3 or 4 years while we wait for the replacement road is going to set up a use by habit which would likely make it possible that the service would have a ready made clientele once the road has reopened and people have learnt to use the service. Don’t assume that people will automatically return to their bad old ways of driving everywhere.

        1. Christchurch didn’t get a temporary passenger rail service after the earthquakes to ease horrendous traffic congestion for commuters from the Waimakariri district. There are far more people living in Kaiapoi and Rangiora alone than all of the northern Wairarapa towns near the railway line combined.

        2. That had a lot to do with the government of the day having an aversion to anything that had public in the name. Besides, isn’t there plans to look at introducing a rail service back to Christchurch as part of this governments commitment to public transport.

      2. 1988 was a low point in PT usage in Auckland or NZ in general IIRC after cheap imported cars really hit the market etc so perhaps hard to compare to then.

      3. Um, fairly sure it would be Palmerston North to Wellington via Shannon, Levin, Otaki, Waikanae etc as it currently is. Indeed, northern Wairarapa would be a bit odd!

        I think twice daily from Palmerston North (i.e. another train from Wellington at, say 2pm and another from Palmerston North at 11?) would I suspect get reasonable patronage. Mostly from Palmerston North.

        It would presumably supplement the existing services from Waikanae south.

        1. Before getting too carried away with expensive sometimes underutilised trains I think we should see how long distance buses can also fit in with rail travel, For example, you can catch the current once a day Capital Connection to Wellington very early in the morning – but you can also catch an Intercity bus at 10am, 11.20 am, 1pm, 2.30pm. 4.45pm and 5.05pm. Equally you can catch the evening Capital Connection back -or you can catch a bus from Wellington to Palmerston North at 7.30 am, 9.50am, 11am. 2pm, 3.30 and 7pm. One problem is if you catch a train one way and bus the other way (and drive to the station), the two stops in Palmerston North are miles apart. If we had better quality buses they could work in well with high speed rail

        2. It’s also possible if frequent trains ran between Wellington and PN, Intercity wouldn’t bother taking buses into Wellington and just route all it’s lower North Island services to PN railway station.

        3. I have doubts the numbers wanting to take public transport between places such as Wellington and Palmerston can justify more than a couple of trains per day – the once a day Capital Connection already struggles and is heavily subsidised – maybe two trains a day either way might generate overall more traffic as there would be more flexibility in travelling time – but the larger centres of Auckland and Hamilton seem more immediate candidates for rail. I think all these decisions need careful research looking at all options.

        4. The Capital Connection is not heavily subsidised, it’s farebox recovery is higher than the Wellington suburban network. In fact prior to the Kapiti line being extended to Waikanae it ran without subsidy.

          You may by right regarding demand, but I think if they can run a train from Waikanae every 30 mins off peak, a train every two hours off peak from PN would probably be viable.

    1. In the Regional Rapid Rail I did mention this as a smart move.

      I also mentioned updated Hamilton and Tauranga’s Bus Networks which need updating anyway to 21st Century best practice with more frequent all day buses linking to RRR

      1. I agree. I also wonder how much gnashing of teeth there will be over who pays, or how much it’ll cost, or how garbage it’ll be because it took Auckland so long to roll it out (see that one on Stuff from Wlg folks).

        It needs to be done and it needs to be paid for by central govt. Also, the govt needs to be authoritarian on this. We can’t have a repeat of the Snapper debacle.

    2. This is an interesting one as the other regions are unlikely to have a system like AT Hop, when eventually they roll out the solution that GWRC is leading for NZTA. It more likely that they will have something like Oyster in London which is account rather than card based as so allows the use of contactless debit and credit cards rather than requiring a separate card. Whether or not AT Hop will be interoperate with this the same as say the Japanese variants do out of their home area will probably determine which solution and infrastructure are used.

      It’s almost unbelievable that merely a couple of months after RRR was released that we are in a situation where a new government that better understands transport could possibly go straight to the second stage where it is visibly better and appealing rather than using the old rolling stock.

      1. I’m not sure we will see a system that only allows for contactless bank cards. Some people don’t have them especially children, so it will always be necessary to have a PT specific smart card as well.

        1. Yes, for most widespread adoption a transit card would still be required. Tourists and other visitors, children, and people who for whatever reason don’t have bank cards e.g. elderly, cash users, etc.

  5. I know that everyone is excited about the possibility of light rail to the airport as was announced but now there is light rail to the west and also regional rail. I think money would be better spent actually finishing projects that in limbo like AMETI instead of having half baked infrastructure. I totally agree that light rail to the airport is great but to me regional rail is a bit of a stretch in the immediate future.

    1. The money is on top of AMETI not instead of.

      Labour just moved back or downscaled some roading projects and moved public transport forward.

      1. Whenever new shiny projects like this are mentioned AMETI always raised as an outstanding project that isn’t delivered.

        In 2014 Auckland Transport said “Auckland Transport aims to begin construction in 2017, subject to approval of construction funding and consents”

        2017 is gone, and it’s not been started. Until we have an actual firm start date for building that people can see, we’ll keep getting these issues raised

        1. The new Government took over just yesterday.

          The question above was in relation funding things at the expense of the Eastern Busway which isn’t happening it was incorrect.

    2. You mean the way the past government didn’t announce any planned roading projects until they had completed all the ones in the pipeline?

      You need to have a pipeline of projects coming along at various stages.

      1. Interestingly, I heard a construction head on the radio this morning saying just that. According to the construction person, the way we’ve been doing things for the last decade is “boom and bust” cycles.

        The construction spokesperson argued that if there was a clear pipeline, the total cost could be lower. I think that’s a rather long bow to draw, with the exception of setup/tear down costs, but am happy to be convinced otherwise.

      2. People would like to know when things are going to be built, I appreciate as you move into the 2nd and 3rd decades, it becomes a bit less precise, but AT should be able to publish a firm plan for the next 3 – 5 years.

  6. “…with the range of passenger conveniences expected for longer distance intercity trips, including comfortable high-backed seats, tray tables, USB charging, tray tables and onboard Wi-Fi.”

    Double tray tables for everybody! 🙂

        1. True story, I had a strange dream last night – I was on an airplane and they had a coffee menu built into the arm rest… Serving McCafe Barista coffee.

          Mmm, KFC chips!

        2. Hi Harriet, thank you for this insightful article. I would like to disagree with you on one matter: the dining car should not in fact be a KFC one, it should be a Cobb & Co. one and the RRR should do a loop from Auckland to Tauranga C&C then to Rotorua C&C, then back to Auckland.

        3. If it’s truly Rapid Rail you’d never get your Cobb and Co meal before you hop off. 🙂 But yes I like the historical reference. I even have ancestors who used to drive the Cobb and Co coaches.

  7. Investigation should also be made now with Stage 3 to build a new Kinleith-Rotorua-Taupo line to have Regional Rapid Rail run right through to Taupo.

    The existing Rotorua Branch line over the steep Mamaku Ranges is too slow and would need fully relaying now if it were to be reopened – and even then would still be steep, winding and slow.

    The much better option would be to build a new line along a more suitable route from Kinleith east across to Waipa mill at Rotorua which would skirt around the southern end of the Mamaku ranges through Upper Atiamuri and Guthrie following a similar route to SH30.

    A new station could be built on the corner of SH30 and SH5 at Waipa which is close to Whakarewarewa and close to all the motels and hotels and tourist attractions at this end of the city, and is closer to the CBD than the airport as well as being next to SH5 which is the main coach route south out of Rotorua.

    The line could then run south from Waipa mill to Taupo via Waiotapu, Reporoa and Broadlands along a similar route to SH5 and Broadlands Road which is mostly flat to the Taupo Mill and a new freight terminal on Centennial Drive. From here a passenger only line could run onwards south west from the freight terminal and down the middle of the mostly very wide Rifle Range Road corridor to a passenger station alongside the Kaimanawa Reserve adjacent the Taupo District Council Offices next to the fire station, which is within easy walking distance of Taupo’s CBD on the lakefront.

    Overall this route would be along terrain much more suitable for a rail line, resulting in a much faster line with the maximum potential speeds on New Zealand’s narrow gauge track with new tilt trains.

    This line would also support the new government’s significant forestry plans with linking three large mills and many forests along one line, and the goal of achieving zero net carbon emissions with the potential for the line to be electrified and powered by the many new geothermal power stations which have been developed in the Taupo region.

    1. I like the idea of including Taupo ut the main focus should be on the shortest route from Kinleith to Taupo to ensure the fastest possible times from Auckland to Taupo. I also think longer term we might want to look at Taupo – Napier to allow a Auckland – Hamilton – Taupo – Napier service. A separate Rotorua – Napier service connecting the three mills can be built separately if viable. Also I don’t see why the existing Mamaku route needs to be slow. It looks reasonably straight and flat on a map to me

      1. This is the mistake many people make, just looking at a map and not looking at the terrain. Rail is expensive to build and realistic compromise between suitable terrain, existing built up developed areas, potential traffic sources (both passenger and freight) and the shortest route needs to be made with the limited resources available.

        The Rotorua Branch line is one of the steepest in the country with a 1 in 35 gradient. Whilst on a map this route is more direct, the steep grade always restricted the speed of trains (therefore slower) and the amount of tonnage that could be hauled by one train over the line (therefore not suited to long heavy freight trains like log trains.

        There is also no easy or cheap way to extend the existing Rotorua Branch line south out of the city due to the way the city has built up south of the current terminus.

        The terrain between Kinleith and Taupo direct is very hilly and this route would require two crossings of the Waikato River – a lot more expense.

        Rail is most viable when everything is along one line and big trains can operate along it (hence why most branch lines have closed leaving main trunk routes)

        The Kinleith-Rotorua-Taupo route is a far less hilly route which doesn’t require any major bridging and links three big mills, many large plantation pine forests, a dairy factory at Reporoa, the large populated areas of Tokoroa, Rotorua, Taupo together with Hamilton and Auckland along one line which could carry both passengers and general freight as well forestry traffic, and is the main tourist route between Auckland-Hamilton-Matamata(Hobbiton)-Rotorua-Waiotapu-Taupo.

        All combined this would make this rail route a viable, practical, useful, and fast line.

        1. Thanks Jag. I do agree Rotorua southwards is a problem. The easiest solution might be to extend the current line southwards under Pukuatua Street with a new Rotorua Central station where Rotorua Mitre 10 mega currently sits (corner Puketua street and Amohau Street) and then a three kilometer tunnel under the city to near Tihiotonga with a station near Whakarewarewa before heading sout to Waiotapu and following the Broadlands Road route to a station on the outskirts of Taupo. A station at the end of Barnards road near the luges/gondala and Rainbow springs could make a passenger service very attractive to tourists. Question: how much would a tunnel under Rotoura cost (vs building 40kms of surface track from Kinleith)? And could the exisiting route via Mamaku be improved via a trench or tunnel? Also keeping the exisiting route allows for a potential Rotorua – Tauranga (port) line in the future

    2. +1 Jag. Taupo is a booming tourist town with no rail service of any kind. Rotorua is one of our biggest tourist towns and also has no service (anymore). With the wall of wood and planned planting’s we should definitely be linking Taupo-Rotorua-Kinleith-Hamilton together by rail.

        1. Yes, I agree. I think there is a huge freedom for people if they can start considering a few holidays away by train. The open road stress can be left to those that enjoy it.

        2. By all means take the train for a holiday, but how do you get around once you are at your destination, especially in places like Rotorua and Taupo where a lot of the attractions are well outside the urban areas.

        3. I guess rental car or taxi like an airline traveler. There is a bus service also. Ideally a light rail around this area would be fantastic, but can’t got everywhere.

        4. Rental car, share car (CityHop etc), bus, foot or coach. In my experience all the main attractions run their own buses, for example Hobbiton tours start at the information office in Matamata (incidentally right next to the rail line exactly where the station should go),

          And otherwise there are often those hop on hop off tourist buses, I think tauranga and Rotorua run these?

          This sort of this ins’t novel in the world, or even in New Zealand. There is a whole tourist infrastructure that already exists throughout the country for people arriving by coach or plane. Obviously nobody brings a car with them from Germany or China, and few than you might think hire a car here.

        5. The lack of rail to Taupo is a historical hiccup. When the North Island Main Trunk was being planned it was originally going to run through Taupo, but because of major “dissent” from the local Maori tribes they were forced to look further west for an alternative route.
          I do agree there should be a line to Taupo, and the Rotorua branch should be reopened.
          Tourist, especially from Europe and Asia, can’t believe that major tourist destinations aren’t serviced by rail.

    3. Yes thanks Jag sounds very interesting route, even though involves back tracking if you are going to Rotorua. Pity it would miss I guess perhaps more a scenic/tourist overview entry into Rotorua, but not sure you would see the lake from the line though.

  8. While high speed regional rail is an exciting option, in the meantime there is a also an opportunity to improve long distance bus travel. We have prepared a working paper setting out some ideas of how this transport option could be improved. The paper was informed by very helpful comments provided on this site when I wrote a blog about it a few months ago. So thanks.

    1. Thank you – I made the same point recently on this site. I was travelling around the North Island, and found the sheer lack of bus frequency a nuisance.

    1. I think Labour had plans for getting commuter rail up and running between Rolleston and Christchurch, but haven’t heard anything about it recently.

    2. Think key for South Island is


      1. Investigation of commuter rail service.
      2. Upgrading bus routes to BRT standard.
      3. Cycling, Cycling and more Cycling

      Other South Island Major Towns
      1. Update of bus networks to more frequent all day services with fit for purpose routes and priority where needed.
      2. Smart Ticketing System.
      3. More Cycling

      Not sure the RRR model works as much for the South Island. With the Golden Triangle just so much growth all very close to each other with three major cities and plenty of towns in between.

      1. Bring back the Southerner, and look to running additional trains Picton-Christchurch-Dunedin to connect with ferries. Make them comfortable enough to sleep in.

        Oh, and bring back the Northerner. It should never have been axed by a distinterested management at the time.

        1. I dunno. Maybe if we’re resurrecting passenger rail we could resurrect a goal of an egalitarian society too. I know it usually takes a crisis like a world war to pull people together like that, but still…

        2. Extend the Coastal Pacific beyond Christchurch for starters.

          The current schedule (once it is up and running again) picks up from the ferry and reaches Christchurch by around 6:00pm so there is still time for a service to reach Dunedin at a reasonable hour.

          This would also bring Ashburton, Timaru and Oamaru back onto the rail network.

        3. Chch to Dunedin by train is about 5:30 so I’m not sure that is a reasonable time for a rail service to get to Dunedin.

        4. Yip CHC-DUD much more difficult than HAM-AKL as Air NZ already operates 6-7 flights a day compared to no flights for the latter routing. 6 flights a day gives you pretty good coverage, and enough capacity to offer a decent amount of decent priced fares, and of course is still going to be much faster than even a 160km/h tilt train. So that’s a hard ask. If it was just 2 flights a day, and therefore less coverage, and capacity, then a strategically timed train service woukd have a better chance.

          IDK, but possibly smaller regional services CHC-TIM and DUD-OAM might have a better chance. In Slovenia, for example, there are quite a few regional 3-4 car fairly modern (but not as high speed as the tilt trains) trains operating from Ljubljana to the smaller hinterland towns. That’s the vision I’m getting thinking about regional rail in the South Island. The other route that bears possibly thinking about is DUD-IVC. Again it’s one of the few without an existing domestic air service on that route. As far as dreaming goes, like Taupo in the North, I would love to see Nelson connected, and with a passenger connection too, to the existing rail network. If I was looking at a completely new ground up rail project, that’s one I’d love to see. And Nelson would have to be one of urban areas in NZ that has grown the most in recent times.

      1. That would only be useful if Manukau Station was going to become the terminus for regional trains, but that wouldn’t be so useful apart from those pax going to south auckland and possibly the airport.
        Terminating at Otahuhu gives more options for both southern and manukau line metro rail connecting services and buses. Britomart post CRL will be ideal for maximum connectivity to city services.

  9. I believe it is important to introduce some kind of a service as quickly as possible. Get it bedded in before the next election. If it is successful it gives the coalition something to campaign for and also it will make it harder to drop if they are voted out. And it should concentrate on moving people from the Waikato to Auckland and Hamilton rather than people travelling between Auckland and Hamilton. Tauranga can wait.

  10. Will any part of the light rail to the airport be up and running before next election. I just think they will need to be able to point to something which is up and running. A Hamilton Otahuhu train service would be something which could be up and running within a year. Just saying this because the election this time reminds me of the 1972 election of Norm Kirk with very high expectations and if you are not old enough to remember it you may know that it did not end well.If you don’t know go back and study it because there are many parallels.

    1. I suspect the PT genie is more out of the bottle than it was in 1972, it would be a much bigger call to go to the electorate and can PT projects now. Also Jacinda has every chance of living through to the next election, had Kirk survived it may well have been a different result.

      1. I agree things have changed the advent of the mobile phones is probably the biggy so a late train is not the huge problem it was back in the 1970’s. Poor timekeeping lead to a bad reputation for NZ Rail which we are now only just turning around. I often watch seamless transfers of passengers at Papatoetoe station with a car pulling into the park and ride as the passenger walks off the platform to be picked up. But remember passenger trains were well used in those days. Muldoon mounted a major attack on the railway dept deficit at the 1975 election and remember the part the unions played in those days. In my view the Silver Star was a big failure which the anti rail forces exploited. So we need to move cautiously and at the same time have results and financial discipline. And what we do needs to move in sync with the electoral cycle.

    2. We might be able to get the City Centre part of Light Rail done.

      RRR could be done pre election.

      A eastern BRT connection to the Airport from at least Puhinui.

      Also hoping Jacinda doesn’t have same fate as Kirk tbh

      1. Regarding Kirk, and health, I hope so, but bad things can happen to young, and youth adjacent people too so let’s just tap the wood a couple of times and pray nothing bad like that happens!

        Intetestingly, reading Robinson’s bio, while Labour had indicated support for the mayor’s idea, the book says Labour was already having second thoughts, and that Kirk and Robinson’s relationship wasn’t especially warm and that Kirk and a number of senior Labour ministers found Robinson an irritating person to deal with.

        I’d like to see the airport end started as well, and if they got it to Mangere and Mangere Bridge Township they could still open that part. I’m sure there are a lot of airport workers in that area and of course some airline customers, so it could still be useful for local trips, before being connected to the northern part. However the airport’s future plans and how fast they get on with them is probably a large stick in the mud for that.

    3. I think it will be necessary to have some part of the LR in operation well within the three years until the next election 2020. National, if elected to govt, then may look at cancellation with similar enthusiasm that this new govt has cancelled the E-W link. More concerning is that they may immediately reinstate the E-W link hence removing much capex that is planned for PT.
      This may mean that the LR depot is planned/built and some of the LR emus need to be ordered and paid for asap.
      The same probably applies to the RRR sets, order them asap for delivery 2020

      1. I can’t see the east-west link making a comeback anytime soon. The most likely reason for National getting in in 2020 would be an economic downturn and spending nearly $2b on a road of dubious benefit would not be the way to successfully campaign in those circumstances.

        1. I hope you are right, maybe that lower cost, option B, E-w link proposal should be proceeded with to ensure the crazy expensive E-W option is really history.
          Within 100 days please (new govt) confirm orders for that tranche of AM emus or bemus, plus a dozen or so LR emus and some of the RRR dual mode (diesel/electric) intercity trains. Please.. for delivery 2019

  11. A real game changer would be to electrify the line between Papakura and Te Rapa, linking the central electrified Te Rapa to Palmerston North line. Why stop this work at Pukekohe?
    Greens and Labour campaigned on cancelling the KiwiRail plan to buy new diesels and not electric engines.
    No mention of that to date.
    Has KiwiRail been informed of the change of Government?

      1. Nice to have but most freight is Tauranga – Hamilton – Auckland. Buying dual mode locos is likely a better initial idea.

      2. But remember what absolute dogs the SA sets were especially as they were pulled by those clapped out DC locomotives. Imagine if we could just have EMU’s running between Otahuhu and Hamilton. Maybe we could just expand the suburban services south in tandam with the extension of the electrification. And then we could have a sprawl of houses along the rail line to go with it.

        1. Stage II of RRR does not involve SA sets pulled by DC bangers and can be done for a similar if not less cost than electrification. Basically all you save from electrification is purchasing electric inter-city units rather than dual mode.

        2. But can it be done in this election cycle whereas electrification probably could and we can buy EMU’s which will be very similar to our suburban ones.

        3. But electrification would lock in the Hamilton Palmerston North electrification making it harder for it to be dropped by a future govt. it would make it more difficult for the diesel foamers within Kiwirail and a future govt to not use electrification.

        4. If this government takes a three year mentality and tries to restrict future governments decision making then it probably will only last three years and deservedly so.

          I think electrifying the line to Hamilton by 2020 so a whole lot of diesel freight trains from Tauranga could run under the wires would rightfully be ridiculed.

          If we are going to be critical of dumb expenditure by National governments that restrict future governments, then it is only fair to do the same of Labour.

    1. Very simple analysis.

      Auckland to Hamilton is 125 km. Say with a hybrid is 5 litre or $10 one way. Amortise the cost of a vehicle over 3 years/100,000km at $40 for the same trip. So $50 one way.

      So 3.5 million trips per year at $30 per trip will be $105 million. Not sure about the OPEX, but I’m sure enough to pay down that 400 million at a good rate.

      Plus you leave you car in Hamilton so don’t pay the Auckland regional fuel tax. 😀

    2. Yea, $400 million would buy you a mere 40% (10Km) of Transmission Gully, and that is at the unrealistic price bandied about just to get the project moving. Already they have discovered they need to do 50% more earthworks than budgeted and have suffered delays due to bad weather, bad luck and likely enraged taniwhas. Expect $400 million to end up as a small fraction of the total cost and then compare what this would buy for rail.

      I would like to think there is still time to cease pouring money down the gully trap.

    3. Its a bargain because its highly unrealistic. One fancy train can cost up to $60m each…and you’re probably going to need more than one train.

      Then there are the track upgrade costs to allow a train to actually go that fast…

      Then there is the opex and the assumption that this requires no ongoing subsidy…

      Lets get excited about what the new Govt. can do, but not shoot ourlselves by over-promising about what level of service can be achieved by what level of investment

      1. I don’t know where you are buying your trains for $60m a piece from, that would get you half a dozen brand new DMUs.

        Six trains would allow you to run hourly both ways between Auckland and Hamilton all day long, and keep one spare for maintenance.

      2. Interesting debates here.

        New trains are more like $20 Million each (depending on train size) – could get them cheaper maybe but good quality essential but $60 Million quite a bit on the high side per train I think. However the other matters you raise are right – track upgrades, maintenance facilities, secure train stabling site development, level crossing works for safety of higher speed trains, formation, track and signal upgrades and other supporting infrastructure such as stations etc so capital costs would be much higher.

        Another thing NZ has unique loading gauge factors so you can’t just buy a 1067 mm gauge train and plonk it on the tracks and expect it to run. Rail doesn’t work like that – it is integrated so many bespoke adjustments have to be made to ensure rail vehicles are a fit for purpose on a specific rail network – especially one that mixes with freight.

        Whilst I support most of what is being said here we have to be realistic. There is NO way that the regional trains will operate financially without operating subsidy. The financial support over fare box will be large. Thus will never be financially sustainable but it may be economically sustainable once Agglomeration, Environmental, avoided roading infrastructure, Wider economic and social benefits are accounted for. Public Transport should always be looked at economically anyway. Major issue is just to get everyone to agree the pricing and other assumptions of course. I think someone needs to look at the sums again otherwise credibility may be lost. The last thing we need.

        Don’t get me wrong I support this but let’s do the numbers right. Otherwise I salute your fine efforts to date. Well done!

  12. I just have to ask. Given that the electrified trains from CAF gave a slower service than the old diesel units then how much slower would the trip to Hamilton be if they upgrade that rolling stock as well?

  13. Well they really mean business I just heard Shane Jones on national radio saying there is to be $800 million spent on the North Auckland line so I don’t know if there will be much left over for this. Unless Phil Tyford can get real creative.

      1. Shane Jones is a smart Northerner. Over estimate at $800m and deliver savings by only spending $500m…..Enough left over to electrify the Papakura to Te Rapa line.

        1. The vintage railway already has consent to build the line back to Opua so is very feasible that one.

        2. What would be the point of restoring the line back to Okaihau? The town itself doesn’t make sense as a terminus, as there’s nothing there warranting a railway line. Even the Railways Department didn’t want the section beyond that to Rangiahua built by the PWD. If you were hypothetically talking about the original intention to build a line to Kaitaia, which today would be stupendously expensive to construct, it would exist mainly to carry forestry products but would still be difficult to justify. And you’d have to tell the locals that you’re going to take away their rail trails because you want to lay track down on the old formation.

        3. Shane Jones worries me. I can’t tell if he’s playing it a little loco, or if he really is a little cray cray.

      2. Considering that the Dargaville line, and the line to Otiria need re-opening as well, to make the whole project flow could bring about some expected costs. Also, it was put to me at work (kiwirail) that money would have to be spent on rolling stock as well. Which would include either purchasing new locomotives, or upgrading current locomotives in use. (The DFB’s are well suited to the route, and the DC’s would do wonders on the branch lines as mainline shunt locos)

  14. The last Hamilton trial attracted about 12 people a day from Hamilton, and that train was faster than what you propose. It offered five trains each way and was publicised over a two year period, so was given a good go.

    The Helensville train trial was actually more successful, but in that case you say the numbers don’t justify any spending at all. Two extremely different outcomes from two very similar trial results.

    So, where will the several thousand passengers you need each day to justify a billion dollar spend-up come from, and why are you so confident that despite the last trial being a disaster no further trial is required and demand will just somehow be hundreds of times greater than last time?

    I’m asking because, frankly, the proposal just doesn’t seem grounded in reality.

    Incidentally, tilt trains will save about 4 minutes over the Hamilton-Auckland route. Curve easements will deliver the same saving and would benefit all trains.

  15. I’ve gotta say – I don’t see the business case for the dedicated tunnel. I love all of this, but I think more realistic is doing wired 3rd and 4th main simultaneously – with potential for a third track through even to Puke and beyond. I think stopping patterns will be so important here – eventually with more local services between Puke and Manukau for example, and clearing stops from Hamilton ones.

    And with wires to Puke, dual-mode D/EMUs (see the new ones on the GWML in the UK) would ensure electric use in the city and Britomart access all good.

    Lots to discuss and debate, but amazing times.

    Capital Connection seems low-hanging fruit too. If Masterton can work, Palmy should too. They should acquire some great DMUs like the UK Class 185s – and interwork them between the two routes. CC could easily be incremental – and really change perceptions and patterns. Nice new trains, wifi/usb etc count for a lot with the average joe…. that’s how you beat the car.

  16. Before you think of any shiny new services you need to sort the NIMT out. That will cost a few million in $$$.

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