There was an interesting announcement yesterday from Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Māori Development and Associate Housing Minister Nanaia Mahuta yesterday that there will actually be some inter-regional strategic planning on the Auckland to Hamilton corridor.

First urban growth partnership signed

New Zealand’s first urban growth partnership between the Government, local councils and mana whenua was signed at a meeting of mayors, chairs and ministers in Hampton Downs today.

Urban Development and Transport Minister Phil Twyford said the Hamilton-Auckland Corridor initiative is an example of the Government’s strong commitment to working in partnership with councils, iwi and the private sector to improve the way our towns and cities grow and develop.

“Under this new partnership, we will strategically manage development between New Zealand’s fastest two growing metropolitan areas in innovative new ways.

“This is also the first time two regions in New Zealand have joined together with the Government to integrate and coordinate the planning and building of housing, transport and other supporting infrastructure and services. Waikato Tainui and the local councils are well-used to working together and I’m pleased central government is now to join them on this important project for both region’s future,” Phil Twyford said.

Also known as H2A, Hei Awarua ki te Oranga stretches from Papakura in the north to Cambridge and Te Awamutu in the south.

At the core of the Corridor are three key networks: the Waikato and Waipa Rivers, the Main Trunk Line and the Waikato Expressway.

It’s good to finally see this happening. It’s important we start to properly plan growth in this corridor so we don’t just end up with one big long urban sprawl area and horrific traffic as people try to get to Auckland or Hamilton for work.

But perhaps for me the most interesting part were these comments:

Phil Twyford said the partnership’s work programme includes initiatives that could strengthen the Corridor connections. These include blue-green connections such as walking and cycling trails along the Waikato River to the Manukau harbour, new intercity rapid rail services and a new mass transit network for the emerging Hamilton-Waikato metropolitan area.

“Work is underway on a Cabinet-mandated business case for a modern, rapid rail line connecting Auckland and Hamilton that would unite two of the country’s largest labour markets,” he said.

….

“This partnership aims to unlock the significant growth potential in Southern Auckland and the Hamilton-Waikato metropolitan area, underpinned by new rapid and commuter rail connections. The transport network will direct where much-needed housing will be developed and connect our people to growing employment opportunities in both the Waikato and Auckland,” Nanaia Mahuta said.

A business case for a “modern, rapid rail line connecting Auckland and Hamilton” sounds like it means something a step above the 5-year trial service expected to go into operation next year and perhaps something much more like stage 2 of our Regional Rapid Rail proposal from 2017. Furthermore the suggestion of new commuter rail connections in and around Hamilton is particularly intriguing and could help compliment the intercity trains by providing service to the townships along the route, thereby allowing the intercity service to stop fewer times and be faster. There are also four rail routes around Hamilton, two on either side of the river and that nicely sets up potential through route options for two lines, something like below (the destinations could just as easily be flipped).

Given much of the urban population of Hamilton is not on the rail line, I also wonder if the suggestion of “a new mass transit network” also means potential busways or light rail too. Given what we’ve learned in Auckland with rapid transit, and the general lead time for infrastructure like this, it would certainly make sense to at least start planning these types of connections.

I’ll look forward to seeing some more details.

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76 comments

  1. I don’t know how to feel about this. It’s fantastic and obvious, but I’ve been working on a proposal concept for over a year hoping to get it published as a guest post, just needing to get home to take photos. Now NZTA have stolen my thunder.

    1. Sailor boy, your thunder might have been eclipsed, but that’s only a bit of noise. It is the ideas and details that have substance. Keep writing, and gathering those photos. I am certainly looking forward to seeing your work here.

  2. Encouraging…

    Aside from the obvious pros such as reduction of vkt/emissions, improved access to AKL/Ham and AKL Airport. …

    What I think this has a real chance to do is improve transport inequity. Particularly for towns like Huntly, Ngaruwahia and Tuakau. This needs to be combined with a good mix of social housing along the corridor as well.

    If you’re listening Phil, make sure you also get the WiFi humming on the trains.
    I work with a couple of Hamiltonian’s who commute to AKL CBD on the reg.
    We discussed this very topic a few weeks ago and both agreed that they would trade an 2 hour car drive (‘optimistic’) for a 2.5 hour train ride if they can work on the train, thereby incorporating their commute into the work day.
    In the scheme of things, ‘wifi’ is a relatively small item on the spreadsheet but a huge factor in making it viable for the commuters…

    1. Phil is legendary when it comes to announcements Kintyre Kid, make no mistake about it. I personally think no one but no one does them better. If wifi is what you want, you’ve got it.

      But somewhere deep in my memory of Phil’s list of “grande announces” is this Auckland light rail thingy, Wynyard to Mt Roskill if I recall correctly that should be up and running in less than 2 years and then the world (or at least the airport and Huapai). Yeah, Nah, probably not, no.

      And the Auckland Harbour Bridge pedestrian crossing, once known as and the resource management approved “Skypath”. Now lost in the wilderness of NZTA bureaucracy, research and approvals and you know, stuff! Another Phil special.

      So ironically Wifi is probably doable, but provided by the authorities and attached to any form of PT, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Maybe you can wifi in and out of the local McDonalds and BP’s en route though.

      1. Maybe just kit out a car with an on-board Maccas… One problem solved another created. But at least I get my wifi.

        1. …or take it to the logical conclusion – ask Maccas to run an outlet that is on a train, permanently zipping back and forth between Auckland and Hamilton. New train every five minutes, and you get fries with that. I’m loving it!

    2. Sounds like a great day. 2 1/2 hours on the train, 1 hour at work, ant hour for lunch, a second hour at work followed by 2 1/2 hours on the train. For the sake of 2 hours at work is it worthwhile even travelling, maybe they should just work at home.

      1. They often work from home Miffy.

        Doesn’t mean it isn’t good to have the option to work in Transit or Skype your Grandma as well.

        Productivity on the move!

      2. Only if you’re going the whole way, there are plenty of options/combinations between Frankton and Britomart. Huntly to Manukau for example.

        1. Yea it’s a great point. Think of how many people from Huntly would’ve never even contemplated working in Manukau….

          Rather than just helping those poor souls that currently battle there way through the SH1 car park. It will lead to new opportunities and travel patterns. Agree with other comments that it’s not just about Frankton to Britomart.

        2. If you get a free run in a car it’s unbeatable, but most of the time except at night the motorway seizes up south of Papakura northbound and remains patchy until Auckland city and similar south in other places. It is especially bad between Papakura past Takanini and Penrose to Market Road nowadays.

          If our Minister of Transport could be taken seriously, one of the things he would do, with the full support of his coalition partners, would be to bypass the single line (and very slow section of track anyway) through the swamps at Whangamarino and align the rail line with SH1. That would carve off a huge amount of time to Auckland but that would take genuine commitment and even better some knowledge that this area was a problem in the first place. I will not hold my breath awaiting that one.

        3. A bit unfair to blame Phil Twyford for the railway not being “aligned with SH1”. It would seem obvious now to construct a new rail route alongside the Waikato Expressway development between Horitiu and Taupiri for example, higher speed, shorter route, gets rid of the Ngaruawahia bridge issue etc etc. Of course under the previous governments, it wasn’t even remotely considered. A bit like the missed opportunity to provide bus lanes alongside the NW motorway when the causeway was raised. What we’re seeing now is result of decades of this solely road focused thinking. It takes a long time to turnaround.

        4. Zippo, it’s actually been proposed or at least suggested for quite some time and I would think if there was any forethought on this announcement then that obvious problem area would be part of the announcement. And you would think so even more given the funding boost Kiwirail has along with NZ Firsts support and most definitely the Greens as it was one of their policies. https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/95870185/swamp-could-slow-highspeed-train

          No blame, therefore, its just that we are two years into this government and this is still not mentioned. You may even recall the “Golden Triangle” rail vision mentioned by the Prime Minister for example before the election that takes into account the Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty areas. https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/95985999/labour-to-spend-20m-on-commuter-rail-between-auckland-hamilton-and-tauranga

          So rather what we get is a far broader vague plan than just sorting out rail, which I would think would be an easy victory in this area.

        5. Waspman: This feels more like a policy announcement for the next election based on policy they announced for the last election. I wonder if Auckland is going to be promised Light Rail again?

  3. The major problem with rail in Hamilton is that for most people it will be slower than going on a bus. My late mother travelled to work from Te Awamutu to Hamilton by bus in less than 30 minutes. To use the train she would have had to drive to the station and then in Hamilton would have needed a bus from the Hamilton station to her work. Even with the old underground station resurrected the train is still a long way from many major employers like the hospital or Kahikatea Drive or the University.

    1. When I worked from. Hamilton, my colleagues frequently took over an hour to get to work from Te Awamutu. It’s almost like congestion increased as Hamilton’s population has doubled over theast 40 years.

    2. Actually Miffy, the biggest problem is lack of demand. It’s a trial train for a non-existant market, which is why it will likely fail.

      Imagine travelling for three hours to get to your bed and then have just enough time to sleep so that you have the energy to repeat the three hour ourney to get back to where you started. Then repeat five times a week. There simply isn’t anyone out there who will be willing to do this.

      The Hamilton-Auckland worker market is a few hundred people per day fragmented across the hours of the day, and in most cases requiring a work vehicle.

      So, the train is only going to attract casual or occasional users. Not daily commuters.

      And with an opex twice that of the Capital Connection (which itself is loss-making), the trial simply won’t be able to continue. Extremely high cost + low patronage = service cancellation.

      You would get more train passengers from Huapai than from Hamilton, and at much lower cost.

  4. A business case for a “modern, rapid rail line connecting Auckland and Hamilton” – really?

    How rapid will the trains be? 2.5 hours is not going to cut the mustard. If the less than 2 hours then people will go on it. If more than 2.5 hours people will not go on it – pretty simple.

    It is about time that NZ should start investing into a high speed train between Hamilton and Auckland. This mean creating a dedicated rail corridor and lock it down for the future. If this is successful, then expand to Tauranga.

    Come on NZ!

    1. I would expect it would be a business case for something under 2 hours. We’ve already had the business case for the 2.5 hour service, I don’t see why there would need to be another one.

      1. I think 90 minutes Britomart to central Hamilton should be the target. A little ambitions, but effective and perfectly achievable.

        That would need a combo of upgrades and realignments tho, so not exactly cheap.

        1. Agree, 90 mins should definitely be the target, even if there are some interim steps that are closer to 120 mins.

        2. Loaded freight trains are scheduled for exactly 2 hours from Auck yard in Westfield to HAM yard.
          Wouldn’t think it would be too difficult to get a passenger train under 2 hours if it was planned well. Just getting it through the Auck metro network would be the difficult part.

    2. High speed isn’t the answer – it would never make any sort of money (thus sucking money away from other public transport or government programmes) or be brutally expensive for passengers (thus low usage). It’s about 125km centre to centre, so realistically you only need trains to run at an average speed of 60 ish kmh hour to make it 2 hours. Imagine if you had an average speed of 100kmh from Hamilton to Papakura – it would be about an hour’s travel and would revolutionise transport between Hamilton and Auckland.

      I think it would be much better to aim for improvements to current tracks such as doubling of track everywhere and quadrupling at certain parts, including stations to allow fast trains to pass by slower trains, as well as accommodations made for freight.

      1. Fix the Whangamarino swamp section and you could probably achieve close to 100km/h average between Hamilton and Papakura using modern DMUs on the current alignment. Much of the route is flat and straight. It would have huge benefits for freight trains as well.

        1. Ballarat to Melbourne is roughly the same distance (~110km vs about ~125km for Hamilton), with the V/Line service running hourly, taking about 1:15 to 1:30hrs each way. This is using modern DMUs with a top speed of 160km/h – on an alignment that is quite windy with a fair few curves.

          Part of the line is currently being duplicated and there new passing loops constructed, which should allow for 20 min frequency in peak, and 40 min off-peak, and hopefully improved reliability.

          I think something like this would be very achievable, and quite competitive – while having the scope for future improvements and upgrades.

        2. Fix that swamp and duplicate all the single track sections for starters.
          Then more curve easing and passing loops so that conflicts with freight train movements are reduced.
          The next priority should then be continuing passenger service to the Bay of Plenty rather then upgrades to full High Speed standards.

        3. Zippo with the spoil from the Mt Eden section of the CRL it could fix the Whangamarino swamp without a greater cost by running a side emptying train every night and just dump to create the base for the 2nd track and also use the demo materials to create a solid base

        4. Ballarat – Melbourne on DMU has 10 stops , most of those are Melbourne suburbs to Bacchus Marsh (their Pukekohe)
          Its not as windey as you might think as its a basalt plain to M-B and then a 150m climb up through some hills then continuously climbing to Ballan at 510m then broad curves till Ballarat. A newer deviation cuts a large curve of through Wallace.
          I was using a topo map for closer look at the line.
          The advantage is the Ballarat line has its own track till Sunshine when it joins the suburban electric system and is only 13km to central Melbourne. Suburban trains with stopping all stations can delay regional trains the closer they get to the city. Melbourne has invested a lot recently in extra lines between Footscray and Spencer St

      2. The Queensland tilt train is nothing new and can manage 160km/h. If the Auckland-Hamilton service is to be done properly I think this should be the minimum. This would give a journey time of about an hour, given dwell time at stations.
        Contrast to the modern high speed rail that has been built in china over the last 10 years which operates at 350km/h with the closest stations about the Auckland-Hamilton distance.

        1. The Brisbane to Rockhampton tilt train takes 4h 30m to cover 351km, an average speed of 78kmh.

          I agree these sorts of tilt trains are the way to go but I think you are a bit optimistic with your journey time of 1 hour.

    3. Google tells me that if I want to get to Auckland CBD by 9am next Monday morning I should budget 1:40 – 2:50. For this example let’s err slightly towards the lower side of the range and say we hit 2:15.

      I know which mode I would rather be on… Rail. Even if it is 15 mins slower. I will arrive feeling far more refreshed having had the option to either relax, work or sleep. Furthermore my carbon footprint will be massively reduced and I will be less anxious that Google’s upper range of 2:50 being my commute time.

      I agree with you that an under 2 hour trip would be great and hopefully that’s where it gets to…

      However we unfortunately live in a geographically challenging country the size of the U.K with a population of 5million.
      Our tax base is tiny, it’s difficult to pay for these things as it will often mean something else has to slip. I
      think we need to be careful not to cast aside ‘sub-optimal’ tentative first steps that might lead to bigger and better things.

    4. PT – I agree with you. A modern rapid rail between Auckland and Hamilton is a fantasy. For that to happen needs to some serious upgrade of the track for rapid rail.

  5. What about the Waikato Regional Public Transport Plan? That set out a network for mass transit in Hamilton and regional rail for the Waikato Region. Will this work connect with what has already been done?
    In those plans there’s some uncertainty how connections between Hamilton and Cambridge, and Hamilton and Te Awamutu would work. Should they be rail, light rail, bus? Along which corridor should they run? That may be sorted out through this work.
    In this last term, the Waikato Regional Council has actually been quite pro-active in pushing for a transformative change in public transport, even though it still gives priority to roading projects.

    1. The Waikato Regional Council 10 year public transport plan is good with a good mixture of regional rail and connecting bus services under the Council’s Busit brand. There is a support from Hamilton City Council and the other district councils in the region to see it happen.

  6. I hope the rail improvements for this project can bring forward an improvement to the Auckland – Wellington line, as I think that’s the scale at which rail really shines.

    What sort of analysis has been undertaken to consider access, not just in terms of “growth potential” for commuter housing along a corridor of fertile land but in terms of linking the bus network to a rail spine in order to allow local economies to develop throughout the whole island?

      1. I made the trip from Auckland to Palmerston North a few times when it was still running everyday, twice a day. Normally on the overnighter. Looked at it for my last trip north and as it only ran on some days and only some of our locations were connected we decided that driving everything would be the best option.

        As a student I also made good use of the train from Wellington to Palmerston North. That at least still runs every week day.

  7. I have always thought of the Regional Rail concept as more linking the Waikato-BoP regions by HR. With a “link” the to the AKL rail network.

    Sure, you can go all the way HAM-AKL if you want, but its much more likely to be used by commuters within those regions, regenerating those townships.

    Its kind of like the Airport Rail debate – it gets hijacked about the fortunes of a minority of users who will go end-to-end, when probably 10x as many people are doing trips somewhere in between.

    But agree, for it to be AKL-HAM “rapid”, its really got to be under 2hrs and with the option of express services in future.

  8. I assume if we link Hamilton and Auckland with a rapid rail link then John Palino will shut up about building a satellite city south of Auckland.

    1. Not with the proposed train timetables, 2 train services early morning Hamilton to Papakura and 2 late afternoon services Papakura to Hamilton. There is no late morning or early afternoon train services planned at this stage. At this stage there is no weekend train services planned. This final version of the Hamilton to Auckland (Papakura) train timetable should be released later this year or early next year.

  9. It might be worth making a couple of changes to the map which accompanies the article.

    There are today five rail routes available if you count the line through Huntly West.

    There is also the catch that there is no existing rail line to Cambridge, though building new line Matangi – Cambridge is probably no more expensive per kilometre than the rebuild that would be needed Ruakura – Matangi.

    1. Kiwirail has said it will cost approximately $10 million to rebuild the line to Cambridge. There are 10 road/rail crossing which will need barrier arms at approximately $370,000 per crossing. The old Cambridge railway station and goods yard have gone so a new railway station plus land will be needed which will add to the cost. If completed the track access will be high so there will need to be alot of passenger train services to make the line viable.

      The Waikato Regional Council is looking a operating a frequent rapid bus services between Cambridge, Hamilton and Huntly under the 10 year regional public transport plan.

      1. Do you have a source or link for that, or was that a personal communication?

        I’d love to find out some more of these sorts of figures.

      2. Kris, you can add another zero to that.

        Firstly, the entire line from Ruakura to Cambridge would need to be relaid, as the current track is lightly laid and on poor quality sub bed. It will need replacement sub bed, ballast and track.

        Secondly, it will need signalling added.

        Thirdly, it will need a deviation around the dairy factory at Hautapu.

        Fourthly, it will need new warning devices installed at all the level crossings. In Cambridge itself, IMO, they could probably reduce the number of level crossings from six to three.

        And finally, the station land was stupidly sold off by KiwiRail two years ago to developers. No space was left for a station, so that will make things difficult.

        I would be surprised if the cost was under $100m.

        A video of the branch:

        1. Geoff – You could be right about the price. KR still owns the rail corridor to Cambridge. It appears that KR is not that enthusiastic about relying track to Cambridge.

          If Cambridge is added to the Waikato regional rail network, the track access charges would be high for say 2 return train services per day to operate.

          It would be cheaper to operate a high frequency rapid bus services between Cambridge, Hamilton Transport Centre (Hamilton Central Station), Rotorkaura (The Base), Ngaruawahia and Huntly.

      3. The trackbed seems to be still in place and unobstructed for the most part though it does pass right through a factory at present. Not sure what they would have to say about passenger trains regularly passing through.

        When the Waikato Expressway was built the overbridge was extended wide enough to accomodate the old railbed so someone was thinking ahead or there was already some kind of plan for the railway at the time the new road was being designed. I doubt if the extra expense for the bridge could have been signed off without approval from higher up.

        1. The rail designation still exists and always has. So NZTA have the option of either building the bridge spans a bit longer when constructing the bridge new, or having to shut down, demolish and rebuild the bridge at some point in the future if Kiwirail decide to put tracks back in their designation.

          The marginal cost of bridging the rail corridor is pretty small compared to the massive cost of rebuilding the interchange at a later date. You can see this on the Avondale-Southdown corridor too.

          Under New Zealand law, roads cross railways, not the other way around.

    2. The line is used most days for shunts down to Hautapu, right on the outskirts of Cambridge. so further down than Matangi. However not sure of its condition for use on passenger services.

  10. Bus services looked at starting or upgrading from a Feb 2018 Hamilton Public Transport Joint Committee
    Agenda Meeting had this (copy & paste from a PDF):
     Pokeno to Pukekohe (route 44 as shown in yellow) – Provision of a regular bus service
    between Pokeno and Pukekohe via Tuakau weekdays and on weekends. Designed to integrate
    with train services from Pukekohe to Auckland.
     Huntly to Pukekohe (route 44 as shown in purple) – Provision of a daily of peak return service
    between Huntly and Pukekohe via north Waikato towns Monday to Friday, providing
    community connectivity and broader access to essential services.
     Te Kauwhata to Hamilton (route 21 as shown in green) – Extension of the existing Huntly bus
    service extended to Te Kauwhata for one return trip during peak periods on weekdays,
    providing access to employment, education and social opportunities
     Hamilton, Huntly, Pokeno to Papakura Express Service (route 44x as shown in orange) –
    Provision of a weekday commuter bus service intended to provide fast and direct access
    between Hamilton City, north Waikato towns and Auckland. This service could potentially be
    supplemented by park and ride facilities at the The Base, Huntly and Pokeno.
     Port Waikato to Pukekohe (route 44 as shown in blue) – options include retaining the existing
    once a week service, or replacing the timetabled bus with a community transport option.
     Community Transport Initiatives – this option will investigate the opportunity of community
    initiated transport solutions to provide improved transport access, particularly in areas where
    public transport may not be a suitable/cost effective option.

    1. Note this was just the North Waikato area. As per Kris above there is also the areas of Waipa District (Cambridge and Te Awamutu etc), Raglan & Huntly Services and Matamata Piako & Hauraki Districts.

        1. InterCity Coachlines has 7 services per day, 7 days a week Hamilton to Pokeno and services per day, 7 days a week Pokeno to Auckland.

          Intercity adult fares start from $13.00 Hamilton to Pokeno and Busit services is $10.40 if using a Busit Card or $14.90 if paying by cash.

          InterCity fares are not subsidised by NZTA.

        2. Intercity adult fares start from $13 plus a $4 ‘booking fee’, so actually $17. Then they start playing their silly “staggered pricing” games so that those $13 fares are about as typical as unicorn dung.

        3. Yes, both the booking fee and the variable fares are annoying with Intercity.

          But 7 services a day 7 days a week mean the bus will continue to appeal to many people. With the train being so limited in the number of services per week, I hope Intercity won’t have to reduce its services. Cooperation rather than competition would help everybody here, so I hope the Government recognises its role in providing that cooperation.

        4. Zippo – You really don’t like InterCity. InterCity fares are not subsidized by NZTA unlike the Waikato Regional Council Busit fares which are subsidized by NZTA. InterCity fares are based on yield basis due to the business model of InterCity Group (now called Entrada Travel Group) being an inter-regional and long distance passenger transport operator.

          Your criticism of InterCity Group operations, clearly shows that you do not understand how the company business and operating model works.

          Intercity is doing more as a privately owned business in connecting regions than what the regional councils and central government is doing.

          Heidi – The 7 daily services to/from Pokeno are inter-regional and long distance services, so I don’t see Pokeno being deleted as a stop from InterCity’s network. network.

  11. I can’t find any discussion of electrification in the discussions above: but is there any indication of whether the trains on the line will be diesel or electric?

  12. I found this item on the web talking about a tilt train running from H2A it came from RNZ . Stating the following ;-

    ” A fast train link between Hamilton and Auckland is to be investigated by the government.

    A business case will test the feasibility of a train that could complete the 125km trip in half the current time.

    It Transport Minister Phil Twyford said Cabinet approved an investigation to the viability of a rapid rail connection getting between the two cities.

    The study is expected to be completed next year. ”

    With the new service starting early next year and running for a trail period of 5yrs this could be up and running after that hopefully . As long as this government agrees to it and stays in power for at least another term and we don’t get a car/truck loving power in government that would can anything to do with rail .

    And here is the link ;-

    https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/396880/fast-rail-link-between-auckland-and-hamilton-mooted-for-the-future

    1. It will never happen until the Auckland rail corridor is upgrade to 4 track operation and the Auckland to Waikato rail corridor is upgraded to at least 3 track but 4 track would be better and electrified between Papakura and Hamilton.

      Bear in mind any train service south of Pokeno to Hamilton will be stopping at railway station on route, so this will slow any ‘fast’ train service between Hamilton to Auckland to a 1hr 30 to 2hrs which is similar to what current limited stop InterCity Coachline and Skip coach services are doing at present.

  13. Couple of interesting related articles:
    https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/102969219/satellite-towns-feeding-waikato-bus-fleet?rm=a (Apr 16 2018)
    ..and usual protest by people who don’t want change “We are diametrically opposed to the way council has tried to sneak this Tasman Rd closure without proper due process,” – though they have a point about the letter post out timing.
    https://www.stuff.co.nz/waikato-times/business/114985765/industry-unhappy-with-treatment-over-transport-hub-proposal

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