With the new Government and its new transport focuses including “mode neutrality in freight transport planning” I thought this would be a fantastic opportunity to write about something we have been thinking about for a while. While planning bypasses and re-alignments of old routes for expressways or new state highways is often discussed and often also funded very little discussion happens around whether we could do the same on the national rail network.
In Regional Rapid Rail we suggested two possible deviations
- The Whangamarino Deviation creating a new straighter double track section on better ground around Meremere and Te Kauwhata while leaving the existing single track section as a passing loop.
- The Bombay Deviation creating an express bypass of the circuitous existing route via Pukekohe and this 17km route avoids the 31km long route via Pukekohe, a saving of 14km and would be much faster potentially saving around 20min. This would also make triple tracking to Pukekohe redundant.
Apart from the obvious speed benefits in combination with the planned third and fourth mains in suburban south Auckland, and the proposed Whangamarino swamp deviation of Stage 2, the Bombay deviation would effectively provide three or four tracks on the NIMT for over half of the route between Auckland and Hamilton allowing both increased freight and passenger capacity.
But we also considered one other deviation but did not include it in Regional Rapid Rail in the end due to scope which we called the Ohinewai – Morrinsville Rail Deviation.
This new 39km deviation across very low populated and flat ground would be 30km shorter than the current 69km route. It also doesn’t travel through the Hamilton urban area and would be built with relatively straight geometry allowing much faster speeds drastically cutting down travel times for freight between Auckland and Tauranga potentially creating a step change in freight speeds as well as capacity especially if combined with the Whangamarino and Bombay Deviation.
The main benefit of this line would be for freight as you wouldn’t really want to split the services giving lower frequency between Hamilton and Tauranga but you could run a few peak expresses using this route in the future which would only take around 17min to run this section allowing sub 2hr travel times between Auckland and Tauranga. Even if not used it would however still large benefits to Regional Rapid Rail as Auckland – Bay of Plenty freight trains would no longer use what could in the future be a highly congested central Hamilton section.
This would also benefit road users as well as New Zealand as a whole. The recent EY Report showed the large enviromental, safety, maintenance and congestion benefits of rail which was written about in more detail by Matt here.
With the 1b a year Regional Development Fund with one of its major purposes being Regional Rail as well as the Governments desire for mode neutrality in freight transport planning these type of solutions should definitely be looked at, or at the very minimum funding given to KiwiRail to scope then designate and protect these corridors so we can use them in the future. Too many times have we failed to protect corridors resulting in large cost inflation usually resulting in the project not happening.