Two weeks ago week Te Huia, the new train between Hamilton and Auckland began service. The train has attracted a lot of media attention for a few reasons and a lot of it has centred around its level of usage. For example on Thursday it was reported that after the buzz of the launch, usage settled down to just over 100 trips per day.

Though the scene was quite different on Saturday, it’s first weekend run with passengers reportedly left behind.

The media have always loved to jump on new public transport, and particularly rail, services and declare them a success or failure after the first day/week. The reality with public transport is it takes time to grow usage as people don’t immediately change their habits. For example in Auckland it took 4-5 years for effect of electrification to be seen in ridership numbers.

While we’ve been big supporters of re-establishing rail services between Auckland and Hamilton, I can’t help but think this is a few years too early, particularly in light of the significant and still lingering network issues that have been discovered in recent times, not to mention all the projects going on like electrification to Pukekohe and the third main. Combined with some of the other features of the service I don’t think the service meets what we might consider a ‘minimum viable product‘. So to ensure Te Huia doesn’t follow it’s namesake into extinction it will require some improvements. So here are some things I think are needed if it is to be more successful – and to be fair many of these have already been identified by the councils/agencies behind the trial and they were the subject of a post-covid ‘shovel ready’ funding application.

Short-Term

Extend services to Puhinui

Currently services run from Hamilton to Papakura where users can change trains to continue on further into Auckland. While it would be ideal to get services into Britomart, that’s not something that will be possible in the short term due to capacity constraints and that diesel trains aren’t allowed in there anymore. There’s are also capacity constraints north of Puhinui until the 3rd main is completed. However, getting services to Puhinui, which is due to reopen in the next few months, should be feasible and would do a couple of key things.

  1. Those travelling further north into Auckland would have the ability to transfer to either a Southern or Eastern line train making that transfer easier.
  2. It would also enable those from the Waikato to make a single transfer to access the airport or Manukau.

It would require a new platform and section of track to ensure Te Huia services didn’t get in the way of AT Metro or Kiwirail freight trains however the new Puhinui station was designed with additional platforms in mind. The shovel-ready application suggests this would cost about $10 million.

Even if the funding can be found, there’s still a bit of an issue with Auckland Transport and Kiwirail doing their best spider-man pointing and spider-man meme impression, blaming each other for not wanting more services on the network.

More Services

On weekdays there are currently just two services to Auckland in the morning and two back to Hamilton in the evening and there is one service each way on a Saturday. It’s just not enough and you better hope you don’t run late, or worse there’s an issue on the Auckland network, and miss your train.

Furthermore, one of the major problems we have with public transport in NZ is that it is almost exclusively focused on peak commuters and the response on the first weekend also highlights that potentially there is a much bigger market than anticipated for day-trips.

There clearly need to be more services, including more on weekends and some that enable trips from Auckland to Hamilton in the morning. With the current trains available even just bouncing them back and forth between Auckland and Hamilton, say every two hours, would make it much more useful. That would mainly just require a bit more operational funding to enable.

More Stations

The only stop between Hamilton and Papakura is in Huntly. Yet there are a number of communities along the route, including some seeing a lot of growth, that also should be being served too. In particular Tuakau, Pokeno, Te Kauwhata and Ngaruawahia. Combined those four towns are home to about 20,000 people so represents a substantial increase to the possible catchment and combined with more services we might even start to see some commuting from them to Hamilton.

The shovel ready application suggested these additional stations would cost $10-15 million each which seems quite high given Parnell Station cost less than $20 million and that included significantly re-grading the line and moving in a heritage building.

The one downside to additional stations is it does slow the train down a little bit but …..

Speed improvements

At about 1 hour 40 from Hamilton to Papakura the service isn’t exactly fast, averaging just 64km/h over the 105km distance. Once they’ve finished fixing the tracks in Auckland there really should be a focus on getting it faster, which likely requires Kiwirail upgrading the tracks. If it was possible to get the average speed up to 80km/h it would bring the travel time down by about 20 minutes and would start to become time competitive with driving.

Medium Term

Thinking a little bit further into the future, here are couple of possible next steps.

More trains

If the short term improvements prove successful more trains will be needed. Instead of refurbishing some more old carriages we should start to look at a new fleet of intercity/regional trains. These could possibly be part of a combined order with Wellington who are looking for new trains to run the Capital Connection and their Wairarapa services. Some battery or dual or tri mode EMUs could be perfect for this. Furthermore these could be designed to enable much higher speeds for a future where further corridor enhancements enable up services to run at up to 160km/h.

Extend Services to Britomart

Ultimately it would be ideal if the service could get into Britomart. At the very least this requires the completion of the City Rail Link but there’s also the issue mentioned earlier of Auckland Transport and Kiwirail wanting any additional available capacity for themselves. I think one possible solution here is that the service actually needs to become part of the Auckland network. Essentially it could pull double-duty as an intra-regional express, for example, if it ran non-stop from Britomart to Puhinui it could give airport travellers an option for a faster trips to the airport. The key would be to ensure that there was actually enough capacity for going south of Auckland.

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241 comments

  1. Situation assessed rationally; problems identified; pragmatic solutions proposed. Now watch KiwiRail and Auckland Transport ignore the advice and run into the ground what should have been New Zealand’s first attempt at restoring its intercity passenger rail capacity. Or can they break form and recruit people who actually know how to operate passenger rail services rather than shuffling freight trains on low-grade, near-to-collapse infrastructure?

    1. Some awful bumps between Pokeno and Papakura, an almighty BANG! as the train goes over them especially near Buckland.

      1. Kiwi Rail have replaced 130km of rail in Auckland over the past 6? months. Mainly at night and in the weekends. They have also repaired bridges and line and inreased the height of tunnels on the line to Wangarei. They are working on the 3rd main line.
        They will work on the line to Hamilton and soon have it up to standard.
        There is much to do after National ran the business down

        1. That must be why the railcar operated Geyserland could do the Hamilton-Papakura run in 16 minutes less than Te Huia and even the Daylight Express took about half an hour less for the Hamilton to Strand journey.

        2. In the Geyserland days there were close to zero local trains on the Auckland network, they had a clear run.

    2. I long for a day that we see electric trains running up and down NZ. That would be the 20yr plan to me. But that only comes if we decide that there’s a benefit to training.

    3. They should have put electric busses on from 4 different locations, make 3rd land motorway t3 or busses for 4hrs a day and create demand and habit of commuters. Would cost 10% of this sego project and busses could be used for other services on weekends

      1. This project just lays the foundation for an Auckland – Hamilton service, which eventually will be built up to go 160 km/h. Aside from buses being much slower, adding more lanes is costly, and you need to purchase more land instead of using existing track.

        1. Great to hear the service will be running at 160km/h. What date is that from and how much funding is committed?

        2. TP – the level of commitment and funding is about the same as there was for electrifying Auckland’s network in 2003 when Britomart was open. Yet now the network has been electrified for six years and the CRL, which wasn’t even in the pipeline then is well under construction.

        3. I don’t expect too much on this. The information we get are non-solid and contradicting:
          There are thoughts transforming Hamilton (Rotokauri Station) into regional transport hub for both buses and trains, but instead of targeting a plan for general daily train operation, the business plan approved for funding is for one-way traffic to serve the purpose of reducing traffic volume on SH1. Such schedule can never achieve the scale as a transport hub.
          You may say when patronage rises the government may upgrading Te Huia to all day service, but apparently even if the train is completely full, it can’t cover its operational cost (let alone infrastructure investment) as Kiwirail is charging $23,000 per day as mentioned in the discussion here. Each Te Huia train carries at max 120 riders, 2 return service provide 480 daily capacity. While a single way trip costs $12.2, a business cannot be established at day time when the motorway still has remaining capacity.
          So either a mindset change from NZTA and transportation planning, or a review in cost breakdown to reduce running cost to around 1/3 will be needed for Te Huia to go forward, which is the foundation to make the Rotokauri TC worth its investment.

        4. Yuen -The Te Huia is a 4 carriage set carriages with a maximum of 158 seated. The is made up with 2 carriages 50 seats each, the cafe carriage 20 seats and wheel chair access and the ‘driving’ carriage that contains facility for cycles, generator room, staff office and driving cab, has 28 seats plus 10 flip down seats. When I traveled on the first Saturday (17 April) that was a 5th carriage giving the 220 passengers with some standing.

          Rotokauri (The Base) station is Hamilton’s on bus/train inter-change that is used by the Orbiter ACW (Anti clockwise), Orbiter CW (Clockwise), 9 Nawton and on the Base side of the station – 18 Pukete, 21 Northern Connector, Comet from Mahoe and Glenview, 1 Pukete and 18 Te Rapa.

          Currently, the Te Huia is a ‘workers’ train for people of live in Hamiton.

          The government is looking at up grading the rail corridor from Pukekohe to Te Rapa for speeds up to 140kph for $2.2-2.5 billion for both freight and passenger services.

    4. Good point. But is the timetable the right one particularly in the morning? Does everyone want to get up so early particularity for those who may want to visit Auckland for shopping etc? A lunchtime return service would be helpful. And why not run into the Strand as this is empty as the Northern Explorer only runs certain days?

    5. Good point. But is the timetable the right one particularly in the morning? Does everyone want to get up so early particularity for those who may want to visit Auckland for shopping etc? A lunchtime return service would be helpful. And why not run into the Strand as this is empty as the Northern Explorer only runs certain days?

      1. The question is what is the cost of running a si for service, as the capital cost of the rolling stock is already spent. Surely another return service during the day wouldn’t be much more? Especially if the staff have to go back to Hamilton anyway.

        1. What if the cost of operating the train is almost 3 times the ticket fare even if the train is fully seated.
          The number is calculated from other comments here. Not sure how accurate is it, but to me this is ridiculous.

        2. What if the cost is 1/3? I’ve pulled that cost out of my arse like I assume you have

  2. A night train between Auckland and Wellington would help create more options. So if you came to Auckland early on Te Huia you could go back late evening on the night train. Having a daily affordable day train between Auckland and Wellington would provide another link. And in the meantime InterCity buses need to link in better to Te Huia so you can go one way by bus, one way by train. https://www.newsroom.co.nz/a-night-train-to-break-air-travel-addiction

    1. The Overlander is priced for a tourist market unfortunately, at ~$70 to get from Auckland to Hamilton it’s an expensive option compare with Te Huia’s pricing which is treated as part of the public transport network.

    2. I feel like I’m being gaslighted, like no-one but me seems to remember that there WAS a night train from Auckland to Wellington; I took it as recently as 2003; and it sucked, it was impossible to sleep and not significantly cheaper than the plane. I love the idea in theory but these white middle-class thumbs-with-beards don’t deal with ANY of these problems, in fact they act like they think they invented the idea.

      1. The trick on that train was to be first in line to board, and zip straight to the back observation lounge, and lie flat on there (room for 3).

        Did that twice, slept like a baby

      2. Clearly you didnt read the article ‘To those who say, “It can’t happen here”, remember that it did happen here not so long ago’. And sorry for being white and a man. But i dont have a beard.

      3. Night trains need cabins and bunks, crazy to not have them. I’ve only been on one other night train in the whole world that was seating only, in the highlands of Bolivia about 20 years ago.

        1. I agree. I went on the Northerner once. It was crap with just seating. I wouldn’t consider it a real night train. There is one night train in Germany that goes right across from the West to Berlin with seats only. https://www.europebyrail.eu/the-2148-from-aachen/

          There are several Open Acess (ie private) operators who have recently syarted up or are planning to start up night train operations in the next year in Europe despite all the Covid crap in Europe https://www.europeansleeper.eu/english/ & http://moonlightexpress.eu/. The former is partnered with successful Czech private operator Regiojet and will use their couchettes. Regiojet already had a hugely successful European Summer season in 2020 running couchette night trains from Prague to Rijeka on the Croatian Adriatic coast.

          I think trying a similar basic couchette service like the above open access operators would be a possible option in NZ (maybe a good way to use the remaining ex AKL SA/SD cars that Kiwirail and RS have and do a conversion – Yes still gonna cost money to refurbish but would be cheaper than full sleepers and can charge a cheaper price too that might go down beeter with average Kiwi).

      4. I did it in 1983 and it was worse than the bus. It was impossible to sleep and incredibly cold through the Central Plateau. They should have had the Red Cross waiting to greet the survivors in Wellington. But it was a good lesson to either fly or drive.

        1. Yes so cold and impossible to sleep, but I wouldn’t say it was worse than the bus. My companion described our following bus trip as “like space shuttle reentry but for nine hours straight and no way to take a piss”.

      5. Comments like these “white middle-class thumbs-with-beards don’t deal with ANY of these problems” are the real heart of the problems we have. Label a group and then blame everything on them. What does this actually solve other than alienating people?

        1. “Comments like these “white middle-class thumbs-with-beards don’t deal with ANY of these problems” are the real heart of the problems we have.”

          If you think that’s the heart of the problems, you have been asleep. By all means be offended if you must, but the rest of us don’t bother getting distracted by these comments – from either side – as we are too busy looking for solutions than to fake concern.

        2. Well I don’t know, KLK, but I couldn’t see the point of the comment. I mean, would a night train serve “middle class” people inequitably?

      6. Caught that night train end of Eater weekend back in the early 90’s from National Park to AKL. Middle of the night, train chocka. No seats, lonnnng ride to downtown trying to sleep standing up.

        Not great.

  3. Good ideas. If it went to Puhununi where would it turn around? If it was Westfield would Middlemore be another potential stop? Btw I drove Pukekohe to the base in an hour on Saturday so that is your speed comparison

      1. “It’s currently running to Otahuhu to layover.”. So why can’t they drop passengers at Puhinui!? Madness

        1. The Te Huia lay’s over at Westfield. The onboard crew travels back to Hamilton by a kiwirail vehicle and travels back to Westfield for the two return journeys back to Hamilton. The driver is assigned to freight duties.

      1. Except the union have refused to use the driving cabs which is why the trains sit at Papakura until after the peak where they then run through to Westfield and they turn the loco around.

        1. The train has a locomotive at one end and a remote driving cab at the other. In the normal direction the loco pulls the train, in the other it pushes it. They think that running push is unsafe, but aucklands diesel trains did it for years so who knows.

        2. Have heard there’s a lot of cases with this service of “what would Auckland know” and advice/experience from AT and other Aucklanders being ignored

    1. It would do what happens now. Passengers get off and the train carries on empty to Westfield where the loco is turned around.

    2. With the third main in place it could potentially extend to Otahuhu, though it may need a new platform there too to keep out of the way of AT Metro services post CRL. I can’t see it stopping at Middlemore. The only station between Otahuhu and Britomart I could see it stopping at would be Panmure. Basically it would likely only stop at major interchanges if extended north of Papakura.

      1. Running to otahuhu makes sense. Ditch papakura as a stop and have the train stop at puhunui and otahuhu. Upgrade both of them with additional platforms. That should speed up the trip to Auckland plus allow easier transfers to other auckland.
        destinations (especially after A2B is built). Easy access to airport is important to induce more passengers. Having it act like an express to otahuhu would save time but that probably needs 3rd main to be built (is there a timeframe for completion of this… this is a project that does not seem to have much information out there).
        Would not add Taukau as a stop. That should be an extension to the Pukekohe service (with Buckland).

      2. If they drop the “purple line” west-south direct service idea is Otahuhu 3rd platform still needed? Perhaps they want to run short runners anyway or as well as?

        1. I think since Onehunga branch can only handle 2x or 3x trains an hour, the others from the Western Line might be sent to Otahuhu.

  4. All of the other points seem like a logical progression of the service but the speed between Hamilton and Papakura is surely something that NEEDS to be fixed ASAP. How can it be so slow?

    1. Absolute bare minimum spending on NZ’s rail infrastructure for a generation is the reason, they’re basically kept at a level that allows a freight train to run but nothing more — so there are speed restrictions all over the place due to disintegrating old track.

      1. The line still mostly follows the alignment set in the 1870s, that’s why it’s so slow. There seem to be quite a few curves and bends that may have been necessary in 1875 but could easily be removed in the 21st century allowing the train to run constantly at top speed instead of slowing down. Then there’s the swamp section, the detour through Pukekohe, the bridge at Ngaruawahia etc etc. Even the station layout at Huntly wastes 6-7 minutes at least by having to cross over the two main lines into a siding, obviously done because it was the cheapest option when the original station was demolished for road widening. Even with the current old trains, I think they could easily cut 10-15 minutes with relatively simple curve easement. There’s a lot of low hanging fruit when it comes to speeding up this train.

  5. Puhinui will be an important inter and intra region station with A2B, Southern, Eastern, Te Huia, and potentially a similar train to Tauranga.

    We should plan for that now.

        1. Auckland Transport somewhat understandably don’t want to fork out $10 million to build a platform for Waikato services. We really need govt to break though this kind of regional bias

        2. Christopher – that would only work if the replacement for AT was better, otherwise your just spending a pile of money on a restructure for no good reason.

        3. And as Matt surely knows the Waikato Council reps told then Transport Minister Phil Twyford at the sod turning of Puhinui that getting an extra platform built at puhinui was an important part of Te Huia being a success. That was what, 1.5yrs ago? Yet here we are and this will be opening with only the one platform.

          Surely this govt wants this trial to be successful so I can’t understand why they wouldn’t have wanted to get this issue resolved so that when Puhinui reopened Te Huia could stop there for an early improvement and win. It’s just another case of a project in Auckland not being done to the optimal standard.

        4. Building more than the current two platforms requires a lot more time and money, in particular the extra tracks to get to and from them. It means acquiring land and demolishing houses (long legal process to follow) plus rebuilding bridges, cutting in retaining walls and doing the track works when there aren’t any train running.

          So you can have two platforms now and four in a few years, or you can have four in a few years.

        5. That’s interesting Riccardo. I was told that (apparently) there is enough land available for an extra platform. It wasn’t mentioned that knocking down houses would be involved.

  6. There’s also scope for improving connectivity options at the Hamilton end. There’s been some speculation about bringing their underground train station back into service.

    https://www.stuff.co.nz/waikato-times/news/124715107/underground-rail-station-in-central-hamilton-could-be-resurrected-as-part-of-major-mall-revamp

    This would be great because the site is very close to their central city bus exchange, where both local and intercity buses stop. Also the whole Hamilton CBD is compact and very walkable.

    This is the sort of thing that the government should be supporting. At the very least that, should it be built, they’ll run a certain number of train services to it.

    1. Yes the Hamilton City Council understand that Frankton is a horrible place for a station, Hence they are very interested in replacing it with a far more accessible central city station. If Frankton gets replaced I don’t think there will be many tears down that way.

      1. The current Frankton station is only a 10 minute walk from any new central station, it has a lot of free parking, easy access for a lot of people. There are far more important things to spend money on than replacing the current Frankton station which is more than adequate.

        1. Britomart is only 10 mins walk from the old Auckland station but that made the world of difference in terms of viability of the network.

          Agree speeding the trains up is the most important thing but getting into downtown Hamilton isn’t far behind.

        2. Well it got described to me as a “dog” and that it would be the last place one would think of building a Hamilton Central Station if one was building one for the first time by one person in associated circles I won’t name.

  7. There is currently an unused platform at Otahuhu and once Te Huia off loads at Papakura it goes empty express to the Westfield yard its not like their isn’t already space allocated for it between Wiri and Westfield. It probably couldn’t stop a Puhinui until there is a third platform but there are more transfer options at Otahuhu so it should improve the Hamilton to Britomart journey time.

    1. Puhinui is a better option though. One train transfer to Manukau, Eastern line stations and Southern line stations. Ten minute dedicated bus service to airport at the front door. A brand new, undercover station with all the facilities including a customer service centre for people without HOP cards. As I understand, it is future proofed for 4 platforms, build the third one now, it will be useful for terminating AT Metro trains as well as Te Huia.

      1. In addition, the third platform at Otahuhu was built as part of CRL works and is needed for when that opens as there will be AT services terminating there.

        1. It would be great for Te Huia to stop there. For one thing, there is wasted space at Otahuhu and it is dead because like Panmure, AT want a dead void even in their main stations. There would even be room for a waiting room/lounge for Te Huia customers if it stopped or terminated at Otahuhu. If it does go up to the Strand which the Waikato Reps I understand are trying to get AT to accept (initially for the sat service at least) I hope it would stop at both Otahuhu and Panmure given the local connecting bus services from those stations.

        1. Six tracks, four platforms. Two tracks for freight to go around. The plans were on here a while back.

      2. I totally agree that they should build another platform at Puhinui ASAP and that Te Huia should stop there. I was more thinking about what could be done right now to improve journey times until Puhinui gets its third platform which would be at least a year away even if they decided they were going to do it today.

        1. The space allocated to Te Huia to run north to Westfield is after the peak ends. It sits at Papakura until the end of the metro peak.

          The train won’t be running north of Puhinui until the 3rd main is completed.

        2. “The space allocated to Te Huia to run north to Westfield is after the peak ends. It sits at Papakura until the end of the metro peak”- according to KiwiRail’s Master Train Plan that applies only to the 0807 Mon-Fri arrival at Papakura (train 102), which waits there for about 20 minutes and arrives at Otahuhu yard at 0850. The 0725 Mon-Fri (train 100) and 0920 Sat (train 104) arrivals have short stops before continuing to Otahuhu, arriving at 0750 and 0948 respectively. In the opposite direction the trains arrive at Papakura from Otahuhu 5-10 mins before their scheduled southbound departure.

          A factor that I don’t think has been mentioned are the connecting times at Papakura, up to 14 minutes. While time does have to be allowed for all passengers to tag off and then tag on (national integrated ticketing can’t come soon enough) and conflicts with the Pukekohe shuttles have to be avoided, that would feel like quite a long time to wait.

        3. Thanks Mike. key word is UP to 14mins. I think especially in case of morning Te Huia trains it’s been quite a bit less. certainly on the 2nd train on day one I didn’t have a long wait, and we were early. And that’s one good thing so far (touchwood!) – the service has been on time and even early.

    2. The entry into the Otahuhu yard is South of Otahuhu Station so Puhinui (or Papatoetoe) are the only real options.

        1. Isn’t there an entry to the Otahuhu/Westfield yards from the North ? , as for the ports shunt and trains from Whangarei .

      1. Otahuhu yard can also be accessed from the platforms at Otahuhu by way of the Otahuhu triangle – there are crossovers from the mainline platforms into the triangle.

  8. I would add that extending the service to Puhinui would also allow a single transfer to the eastern line, Most significantly Sylvia Park, which could be a significant shopping destination for weekend users

  9. Capacity issues aside (into
    Britomart). There is a station (The Strand) only a couple hundred meters outside Britomart. Could Te Huia simply stop there ? Avoiding a need to change at Papakura. The strand was the of central akl station. It wouldn’t be too hard to bring it up to scratch for passengers to alight.

    1. Britomart is way more convenient for almost all trips than the strand. And the strand is so disconnected from PT and walking. Meaning that most people would transfer anyway, and then in that case it might as well be at puhinui to the eastern line.

    1. In New Zealand rails are of 1067mm narrow gauge but the SNCF trains are of 1435mm standard gauge. There are narrow gauge EMU trains operated at 160kph in Japan tho

      1. Are you saying you can’t do hybrid drive on 1067 gauge? How does the track width affect the powertrain? I have never understood why people get so fixated on rail guage, but there must be something to it? c.f. front and rear track of a car, who cares about that?

        1. Don’t get me wrong, I just mean there will be fewer existing tech / product we can take or purchase. Gauge is a huge physical constraint – it defines the speed a train can go, as well as the cost to improve their speed. It is equally expensive to build a train that can go 150kph on narrow gauge as a high speed train going 200kph+ on standard gauge. And having hybrid design will be even more difficult and expensive.

          However, we don’t have to choose the difficult way – why not just DMUs? AT or Kiwirail union aren’t against diesel trains in Auckland, they just don’t like to push trains. DMU solve the problem: cabs at both ends, direct control, reasonably accel and decel , a lot of existing product that can do 130kph+, and can operate all the way to Hamilton. Use DMU first, and use it until the line is electrified, and then switch to EMU

        2. Track gauge is a constraint, but not as much as the structure gauge and axle loadings, in both of which NZ is rather constricted. Standard overseas designs tend not to fit here.

          AT are definitely against diesels using Britomart, and DMUs are a declining market (and rightly so).

  10. Its stuck between a rock and a hard place and always will be. It needs more money spent on it to make it competitive with driving or even buses, but it will never get the required patronage to justify any serious amount of money.
    This money would be much better spent on PT in Auckland where it would get that kind of patronage every 10 minutes instead of twice a day.

    1. No, that’s nonsense. All it needs is a station in North Waikato, preferably Pokeno, and it would be full everyday. However I believe there is money set aside to rebuild Te Kauwhata station, probably because the island platform still exists so cheaper than Pokeno where zero exists. Which didn’t stop the Pokeno developer from showing a railway station in some of their advertising.

      1. Agree. I think in the long run Pokeno and Tuakau should be part of an extended Auckland metro network but as an interim adding Pokeno would help with both Te Huia patronage and offering useful PT for Pokeno. It’s the very definition of low-hanging fruit.

        1. Not sure if low hanging fruit normally have a $10 million price tag, especially for a service that is only ever going to run a few times per day. At some stage they do have to calculate some kind of BCR and even the low hanging fruit seem to make little sense. If it is going to be done for the Auckland metro network anyway then maybe…

        2. $10 million is definitely low hanging fruit these days. Pokeno is going to have a station at some point, build it now and people who move there will be able to plan around catching the train and Te Huia will be a lot more viable, thus requiring a smaller subsidy.

        3. $10 million is not low hanging fruit on a service with ~60 users a day. Our local footpath has more users, yet the council can’t even find a few grand to make it safe use.
          Even if the new station tripled the number of users (hard to imagine when Pokeno is a lot smaller than Hamilton), the BCR would be extremely negative.

        4. $10 million would have a fantastic BCR over 30 – 40 years for a station next to the main trunk line in a rapidly growing town on the edge of Auckland.

          I wouldn’t get too hung up on current patronage numbers, it’s an investment in the future.

      1. Well it sounds like they would need to spend a lot in Auckland to make Te Huia viable. As Matt pointed out most of the stops between Hamilton and Auckland are almost too small to justify slowing down the service.
        It needs to decide whether it is an all stops slow service serving the small towns in between (this makes some sense to me) or a rapid connection between Hamilton and Auckland (that sounds like a money pit)

        1. Because Kiwirail are in charge and they inflate all their costs to try and claw back funding for their operation.

          The real question is why Kiwirail is charging $23,000 a day to operate two return trains on a 110km long route.

      1. Te Huia is a public transport service provided by the Waikato Regional Council, both Te Kauawhata and Pokeno are within the Waikato region. But in any case we don’t need this kind of parochial demarcation nonsense getting in the way of providing comprehensive regional public transport.

        1. Was it fully paid for by Waikato regional council? I thought government were involved? I didn’t know councils had money to burn like this!

        2. It’s mostly funded by government. Taxpayers live both in and outside of Auckland so it’s definitely not money to be just channelled into Auckland’s metro because that seems easier.

        3. Exactly Zippo. I am sick of this stupid regional parochial nonsense. Inter-regional PT is one of the areas we are way behind Europe, Japan etc in. A couple of years ago I stayed a few days in Aachen, Germany, right near the border with the Netherlands and Belguim. In that area there is a cross-INTERNATIONAL bus service serving the towns in that area (Limburger Express). Yet we struggle to get any cross-regional PT in this one country! I’ve met so many Europeans on my domestic pre-covid travel in NZ and the thing they moaned the most about? The pathetic cross regional non private auto options in this country.

    2. It’s the same rock and hard place that Auckland was stuck in when patronage on the rail network was 1 million per year.

      Thankfully the City Council had the foresight and fortitude to push through with building Britomart. The same can happen with regional rail

      1. Well said! Literally, Rome wasn’t built in a day. That’s been the most frustrating and disappointing thing for me of the comments about Te Huia on Twitter. The number of people (including expats from Europe etc who should know better) who somehow totally unrealistically (are they perhaps living on Mars?) expected a gold standard service fast train from day one, as though it should’ve just somehow miraculously appeared out of thin air! And when it hasn’t, have cast off the service in WEEK ONE of a FIVE YEAR trial.

  11. I think the key issue that a lot of people forget is that it would be very difficult to get funding for speed and other infrastructure improvements before the service seemed solidified and was going to stick around.

    Getting money to improve speed on a freight only line would be laughed out. Adding the third at puhinui doesn’t make any sense unless you presume there will be long distance trains stopping there. Etc etc. it would be good if they dropped a hundred or so million on the lines infrastructure, mostly the speed improvements for example should probably have been done years ago if we were maintaining stuff properly. But we haven’t and again it’d be a very tough sell.

    This service is not that hot, but imo it seems like a necessary thing to do if you want to play the correct political games to get the end goal.

    1. Yes it requires a courage of conviction and self-belief that what you are doing is right (The Waikato reps are certainly singing that tune which is good to see) beacuse especially when it comes to rail in this country in modern times, the majority will not be with you at the start. For some reason it so hard for most people to visualise a successful train service and network.

      Never forget that the majority disagreed with Auckland CC mayor Christine Fletcher about Britomart and voted her out and John Banks in. Thanks to the vision and courage of Fletcher, Britomart got signed off even though she must’ve known it would terminate her mayoral reelection chances. The majority couldn’t envision Britomart as a successful, busy train station. But the majority were wrong.

  12. The other major problem Te Huia has is the state of public transport inside Hamilton. The Comet service from Glenview looks to be set up to connect with the train. But in the suburb where I live the buses don’t start to run until after the later morning train has left.

      1. I think HCC are goinng to do something about it , as right now the first ACW orbiter from the Universty misses the 1st service but connects with the 2nd one . and there is no Bus to get to Frankton station without taking a route march from a main road .

        1. Yip I’ve been told Frankton is horrible so a bit of a lost cause but Rotokauri should have bus connections for both Te Huia trains. HCC are looking at it.

  13. When God created New Zealand she gave New Zealanders a can do attitude but we be doing things wrong especially when it comes to rail because there seems to be all sorts of train blocks being put in the way of common sense. Such as diesel trains not being allowed into Britomart and Auckland Transport not cooperating with Waikato and drivers not wanting to use the SD driving compartments. I don’t think we will get any clarity until the CRL, Pukekohe electrification and third main are up and running when I think things will just fall into place.
    So we use the time to intensify the Papakura Hamilton part of the service. Build the stations at Tuakau, Pokeno, Te Kauwhata and Ngaruawahia. Run trains in both directions from Papakura to Hamilton throughout the day also some buses to build momentum . Turning trains at Papakura is not a problem as all that is needed is another locomotive which is facing the right direction to be stationed there. The locomotive off the service will be uncoupled and run to Otahuhu to be turned on the turntable. Meanwhile the other locomotive will back on to the rear of the train which will then be the front of the train. And the other big thing will be to integrate the Waikato buses with the trains. Example being there are already buses running along the entire length of the Te Huia service although passengers would need to change. A late night bus for stragglers returning to Waikato would seem obvious.

    1. All most of those ideas would achieve is to fritter away a lot of money while making the train even less time competitive with driving. It’s too slow to stop at more than one extra station, even that is likely to add 10 minutes to the trip time.

        1. Might be an exaggeration but I’ve learned from experience to be pessimistic when it comes to the time NZ trains can piss around at stations. Slow languid approach and very gentle departure with a ridiculously long dwell time. And forget about Ngaruawahia, Rotokauri is their station now.

        2. Agree, they will be longer than they need to be but I don’t think it’s a reason to leave them off, just a reason to speed up the dwell times.

          I don’t see why you would discount Nagruawahia? It is 13km from Rotokauri and 14km from Huntly. If anything people would use Huntly but that’s a pretty poor reason not to have a stop there. The train has to slow down for the bridge anyway.

      1. No public transport is fast in Auckland or Hamilton passengers just need to take it into account if there in hurry they will drive but even then they risk there being a holdup on the motorway so that can be a lottery. Think of these towns as suburbs of both Auckland and Hamilton because that is what they will become. I know you anti sprawlers find this hard. If you don’t provide rail access to these future suburbs then there will need to be feeder bus services because some kind of public transport is required. There will be a need for some buses anyway.
        And the train people can just do what happens on the Wellington Masterton train. The Guard goes through the train and finds out if anyone wants to stop at some of the more lightly trafficked stations and conveys that to the driver on her or his walkie talkie. If anyone is on the platform then the driver will stop elsewise the train will cruise on by. They use to do the same on Southern line trains prior to Westfield , Southdown , Mangere and Wiri before they were closed. Now there is gap which needs buses to fill. Lets learn from our mistakes.

  14. I’m not sure if speeding up the line will matter that much. If I would catch that train it would take me 1h40 minutes to get to Papakura. Even from the city centre it is an hour. (by public transport).

    Would Te Huia be able to overtake local trains on its way to Puhinui? Do you just do a park and ride in Papakura?

    The thing is Auckland has a motorway network so on long distances you can go faster than on local roads, however it doesn’t have the equivalent on public transport. So your intercity train will serve only a tiny catchment near wherever it happens to terminate.

  15. “For example in Auckland it took 4-5 years for effect of electrification to be seen in ridership numbers.”

    If it took 4-5 years for the “effect of electrification to be seen”, how do you attribute it to electrification and not other factors? You can only really make such a claim if you assume absolutely nothing else happened in Auckland over that time.

    1. It was the only thing that happened on the rail network in that time, so it clearly has a lot to do with it. New electric trains that allowed much better service levels, capacity and reliability resulted in a lot more people using it. Not a huge leap of logic, although sure things like integrated ticketing and the new bus network connecting in to every rail station would have had a big impact too.

  16. I agree with most of the suggestions but I have to say most of them are already on the book (the grand plan that may or may not be executed), e.g. extend to Puhinui in 2022, to Strand in 2024. The ultimate problem is that AT Metro and Kiwirail are rather “under-engaged” in the project. I have taken the Saturday train and transited onward to the Southern Line. The Te huia brought more than 50% ridership to the Southern Line. There are potential benefits to ridership for AT if there are better collaboration between them.
    Auckland Transport should establish a strategical partner with Waikato’s transport operators (Hamilton bus inclusive).

    Some tiny bits and pieces for the operation on Saturday:
    The transit experience wasn’t very good at Papakura – the bride is too small and the transit mode isn’t well thought through. 200 people stuck at the queue to use the bridge. The Te Huia platform is an island platform shared with AT and there are gates – but AT doesn’t seem to be using that platform, forcing Te Huia riders to climb the bridge, get out of the station and tag back in.

    Secondly, although it is encouraging to see high ridership on Te Huia on Saturday, it is sad to see it is only available for less than half Saturdays right now. Again, there’s something to do with AT and Kiwirail’s involvement in Te Huia.

    For short term, I would be happy to see ‘replacement buses’ on Saturday’s when Te Huia is not available, to build up regular passengers who want to have a relaxed trip to Auckland on weekends. Secondly, a 2-way services, and probably more round trips on Saturdays. There are 2 set of Te Huia carriages and it is using one on Saturday. They can definitely use the second set of train to run in opposite direction such as Aucklanders can also use the train to get to Hamilton. They can also service the first set as it arrives at Papakura at 9:20, and make trip from Parakura to Hamilton say at 9:45.

    I live in Hamilton and drives to Auckland around once a month right now, and I feel like the weekend traffic is Auckland is worsening. I would definitely want the Te Huia service to sustain and improve in the future, making the train trip a ‘just go’ trip rather than a trip that needs to be planned days ahead

    1. It’s Kiwirail working on the tracks in Auckland that stops many Saturday services. Sundays and public holidays are out completely for the same reason.

      1. That’s what I mean Kiwirails should be more involved – to have a stake in passenger train services. Given that there are more passenger using rail service on weekends than off-peak hours on weekdays, and there will be lost of revenue for them if trains are not running, will Kiwirail make the same decision to schedule maintenance work then?

        1. I wont happen unless the Government tells Kiwirail to do so, as Kiwirail is freight focus. To get decent regional and inter-regional passenger rail services will need to have an ‘open’ access national track network. Currently the track network is currently closed as Kiwirail is both the track and rail operator.

    2. The Saturday restrictions are due to the track rebuild between Papakura and Pukekohe.

      I believe that the electrification project has an effect as well

  17. I would love to be able to take the train from Auckland to Hamilton in the morning and return late afternoon. Would love to see the service extended to offer this.

    1. There is no reason using the existing ‘hybrid’ model AT Metro train/Te Huia model. The current 6.28am from Frankton can return to Hamilton departing 8.30am and depart Frankton 4.30pm to Papakura and come back to Hamilton as the existing 6.25pm from Papakura. All it needs is to convince the bureaucrats to think out side the square.

      1. What it needs is what Matt has neglected to mention. That is that the Waikato Councils are the ones who have pushed this service, not AT. Therefore the services are ex Hamilton. it is up to AT to create and run ex AKL services, but it appears they are not interested.

        That is I think hugely disappointing. I actually specifically mentioned funding, planning, and execution of regional rail services in my 10 year budget submission.

        I can’t help but be a little surprised at how reticent Matt and this blog have been about AT’s ambivalent attitude to the Te Huia train. If AT had taken a similarly positive attitude to it like their Waikato colleagues, I am no doubt we would’ve had ex AKL morning trains as well. It is no use blaming the Waikato side for the absence of ex AKL morning services. If Aucklanders want them, then pressure has to be put on AT. Again this blog states they are strong supporters of cross regional trains servives including this one. So why no questions for AT Matt?

        1. What is required. this silly disorganised and dysfunctional way of regionalised planning, funding and procurement of public transport needs to stop as it is not giving value for money to both to rates and tax payers.

          What NZ needs, is to have ‘not for profit’ national public transport agency as a state entity under the Ministry of Transport working with its city, district and regional council partners, to plan, funds and procures urban, semi rural, rural, regional and inter-regional “turn up & travel’ bus, trail and ferry public transport services across all 16 regions in NZ. This would stop this silly nonsense that is happening with Auckland Transport and Waikato Regional Council regarding the the Te Huia and future ‘turn up & travel’ inter-regional rail and bus services between Auckland and Hamilton.

  18. After reading all the comments there seems to have been no-one or possibly a few that have travelled on it . I did tthe 1st from Rotokauri to Papakura on the 1st day . The slowest part was outside waiting for a DMU to leave the station , otherwise the service would have been 10mins early .

    And this is the trip on the very 1st train that day , plus showing the 2nd arriving at Papakura and then both leaviing in the afternoon ;-

    1. And the silliest thing is that the crew that came up went back to Hamilton by car and then they brought up tthe Afternoon crew the same way , WHY ? . When they could do a return trip .

      1. Hate to think what the taxi fare will be for this journey – and this is twice a day every day.

        It would make much more sense and better use of resources to run one of the trains back to Hamilton as a service with all the morning crews on it, and then have the train come back in the afternoon as a service from Hamilton to Auckland bringing the two crews back to run the evening services back to Hamilton.

        1. Exactly, they should keep the trains bouncing back and forth all day, they could even take one to Tauranga and back in that time.

          At the very least they should do the return run to their base at Hamilton to swap crews.

        2. Te Huia crew uses a Kiwirail vehicle that takes them back to Hamilton and back to Westfield for the return services.

          It is similar with the Capital Connection Palmerston North and Wellington service.

  19. Once the 3rd main is completed, this thing will take off given the ability to run express services to Britomart. However in the interim, its going to be a hard sell/slog looking at those initial numbers, albeit the weekend patronage is pleasantly surprising.

    Two priorities should be (1) getting to Puhinui and the interchange with the airport and (2) adding one of additional stations on the Waikato side to pick up extra patronage. The latter is why AT bought into this in the first place; the driving being generated out of places like Pokeno.

    But the WRC surely needs to stump up with some cash to run services in the other direction. Surely there are lots of commuters going south from those Northern towns each morning and coming back in the evening. If we want longevity for this thing then that should be a focus too. Even if the numbers through to the CBD don’t ever stack up and its decided to terminate at Puhinui, we’ll have a Waikato regional service which is integrated with the AT metro network, allowing (through Puhinui) connectivity with RTN services going North, west and east, via a simple, single, transfer.

    1. AT aren’t funding this in any way. It’s mostly NZTA with a bit from the Waikato Regional Council, plus Hamilton City Council for the Rotokauri Station.

      As a diesel train it won’t be running to Britomart even after the 3rd main opens.

      1. I meant AT bought into it by agreeing to integrate with its network. A trade off might have been an additional station at (say) Pokeno, to offset increased driving trips from there.

        On the Britomart-diesel issue, I don’t actually see a need to go all the way there anyway. It could terminate at the Strand, with the expectation most remaining passengers change at Newmarket to carry on, on the same route, or change to the Southern line to go to the busiest station on the network, Aotea.

        In fact, from Otahuhu onwards, there could be all sorts of transfers happening (Penrose (O Line), Ellerslie (eventual buslanes east), and Newmarket), that it makes sense for those to include people who want to go onwards into the CBD. We just assume everyone needs a one seat ride to Britomart.

        1. AT are pretty keen on not putting any more trains through their very overloaded network around Newmarket and Britomart, for good reason.

        2. Yeah I mean I think we have to give up on the dream of anything further than Puhinui until the CRL is open, but at least Puhinui opens up the airport and double the frequency of connections for onward travel

        3. Totally agree, Kraut – a Puhinui termination should be fine, if there is a seamless transfer.

          Step off one train and onto another, with little wait. Further transfers available at Otahuhu (east), Ellerslie (O line) , Newmarket (west) or stay on for crosstown (west) and CBD destinations. Those going to the airport transfer to BRT and eventually to the east too.

          The best networks allow lots of transfers, frequency and coverage, not one seat rides everywhere

          Just like Airport-CBD riders should never have been the focus for LRT, Hamilton to Britomart riders should not be the focus here. Such a small number, relatively speaking. We should be focusing on the driving that goes north from those northern Waikato towns but also allow end to end accessibility (but not a one seat ride) for the few who will want it. That an intra-Waikato travel, particularly south in the morning and north in the afternoon.

  20. I am based in Hamilton and travel to Auckland and back every weekend. This service is useless for me. But if there was a Hamilton -> Auckland service departing at 6pm and a return service departing at 8pm it would be great.

  21. The line upgrades, full double track, curve easement, and formation stiffening, and or bypassing the swamps needs to happen anyway to reduce maintenance costs, wear and tear on tracks and rolling stock and service time improvements for all services freight included. Provision for electrification and upgraded signaling, should be undertaken with the civil engineering works so electrification could follow immediately afterwards to link Palmerston North to Auckland with a continuous 11kv system.
    This is a key bit of NZ’s transport infrastructure for a lower carbon future, it simply should never have been an asset managed into decline.
    The current fragmented approach to rail service provision must be replaced, it is just too parochial for the tasks needed to be done.

    1. Don don’t those patronage numbers speak for themselves? There is a reason it has been an asset managed into decline: not enough people were using it.
      For example I just looked at google maps to get from my house in reasonably central Auckland to a randomly chosen house in Hamilton: 1:30 to drive vs 4:22 to walk -> bus -> walk -> train -> train -> train -> bus -> walk. They would have to invest some serious cash to even get that down to 3 hours. The demand from Auckland City to Hamilton City is very low, and when you add PT on either side of the journey its just not competitive with driving for almost anyone.

      1. You’ve got that backwards. The patronage numbers are low because it has been asset managed into decline, not vice versa.

        1. I would say patronage is low because the money has been invested into roads and the cities are sprawling which means it is easier to drive. Even if it was in the kind of condition you would see in Europe between two cities of this size (probably not high speed) I doubt patronage would be significantly higher.

        2. The evidence from similar sprawling cities in Australia suggests patronage would be significantly higher if the tracks were in decent condition.

          In fact you don’t even have to go that far. The Palmerston North to Wellington service was carrying around 340 passengers per train last week.

      2. A habit doesn’t build up in days, especially for commuting. I doubt how many people can fit their working hours with Te Huia’s schedule, but it is far too early to conclude it right now – it could take weeks or months to adapt one’s working shift to meet the train even if they only need to adjust their schedule by 15-30 minutes.

        Casual travel on Saturday shows exactly the opposite. People may just want to visit their friends in Auckland who can pick them up with their own cars, or they go for shopping in malls accessible from a train station, and they fully packed the train last Saturday.

      3. The reason the line has been run down is it is run by a company that has limited funds for making long term investments. If the tracks had been funded the same way the state highway network is these improvements would have already happened simply for the benefit of freight.

        It is faster to drive from most places in Ballarat to most places in Melbourne but still a significant proportion of people catch the train.

        There will be a number of reasons for this, saves owning a second car, saves the hassle of parking, don’t own a car full stop, can get work done on the train etc.

        1. Melbourne is much bigger than Auckland. If they spent a lot of money to get rail duration down to the same 1:30 that it takes from Ballarat, do you think we will get the 12,000 trips per day they get? I doubt it we would get a 10th of that. We don’t have the population or density to ever allow any kind of frequency between the two cities, and without frequency its time to get the mothballs out IMO. (sorry if I sound overly pessimistic, I would love to have good regional rail, unfortunately I just don’t think it is feasible due to the distance between our bigger cities and our typography).

        2. While I’m probably being a bit optimistic given Melbourne is larger, I think you are being extremely pessimistic. The spread out nature of travel you describe is not unique to NZ.

          The daily traffic volumes between Ballarat and Melbourne are around 22,000 plus 12,000 train passengers, isn’t hugely different to the 26,000 vpd between Hamilton and Auckland. A similar modeshare would give around 9000 to 10,000 train passengers.

          The most foolish thing would be to look at current Te Huia volumes and decide to make no further investment in rail while traffic volumes grow in the next 30 years to what they are now between Melbourne and Ballarat.

        3. In reply to Jimbo below,
          I think the biggest driver is not the population of the larger centre of the pairing but the population of the smaller centre.
          Enlarging Melbourne’s population would have much less effect on the patronage of Melbourne Ballarat service then increasing the population of Ballarat.
          I think these posts indicate that the biggest impediment to provision of these services is neither the economics, or the engineering but is fractionated governance.

        4. “The most foolish thing would be to look at current Te Huia volumes and decide to make no further investment in rail”: this is what I fear will happen. I can’t quite see what the current service achieves other than to put people off rail.

        5. What did the Melbourne upgrades cost roughly, I suspect they did quite a major upgrade compared to what could be achieved here for far less with the Waikato – Auckland services.

        6. Jimbo – I agree it is a risk but the alternative is to just leave it and still have no trains in 20 years. One thing is certain, the investments needed to improve the service won’t happen if there are no trains running.

        7. Jezza – The Victorian State government is investing heavily into Ballart, Geelong and Bendigo lines with double tracking to increase regional commuter rail frequencies on these lines.

      4. They had very limited resources and have set up a basic PT service for Waikato people to travel to Auckland for a day. Did you expect some sort of monorail from your house to another house in Hamilton? For 100 million bucks??

      5. The same was being said about upgrading commuter rail in Auckland 20 years ago.
        And then the same thing was said about the Northern Busway just a few years later.
        And after that about building the CRL.
        If Wellington can support a commuter rail link to both Masterton and Palmerston North, then Auckland to Hamilton will flourish with even something like an hourly service peak, two hourly off peak from Auckland Central to Frankton Junction.

        1. I hope you are right DonR, I do actually want it to succeed.
          I think a big difference is that Palmerston North to Wellington is time competitive to driving from what I can see, and it is also direct. I think Te Huia is a very large investment away from that: full electrification needed to make it direct, extra mains through Auckland and track realignment to make it faster. I just can’t see how that investment (potentially billions) can be justified to carry a few thousand people a day at best: I am sure we have better things to spend money on.

        2. @JimboJones.
          It’s not that that large of an investment to be very competitive at peak times. It’s already fairly close depending on when you arrive in Auckland by car and where you’re going. But some minor ish upgrades would improve it a lot.

          a) Third main is already happening, allowing these services to go direct to the eastern line, or southern line where they no longer share track, and therefore have spare capacity.
          b) electrification is going significantly further south as we speak. BEMUs would probably be able to cross this gap, or if required, electrification further north for a few (5 -10) km from Te Rapa, or an infill block north of Huntly. But it would be by no means required for the full duration / distance. The BEMUs recharge pretty quick, so you wouldn’t need that much distance, especially if it included some stops, or a turn around.
          c) a lot of the required things are maintenance and curve easements that freight will either need to pay for eventually, or would directly benefit from the minor upgrade.

        3. Such discontinuous electrification could work for passenger trains (though I’m not sure that it’s been done on the scale proposed), but it would be of no use for freight trains, which would still have to be diesel hauled under the wires.

          It was suggested in this thread that electrification should be done properly, and I’m not sure that a proposal that means that many trains would not be able to use it would fit that bill.

        4. The civil works of curve easing, full duplication, formation stiffening across the swamps, and “at grade” road crossing replacement, needs to prioritised ahead of electrification just as they were on the NIMT project many years ago.
          These works will have an immediate benifit on this vital freight corridor.

        5. DonR: those NIMT civil works were an integral part of the electrification project rather than being prioritised ahead of electrification.

      6. Yep as Jezza says the Capital Connex is full these days. Yet that wasn’t the case at the start. Again Jimbo, don’t judge something one week into a five year trial.

  22. I see it, as Matt, official reports and others have suggested similar like this:
    Firstly government needs to make sure Auckland and Waikato can work together on this properly.
    Surely do return trips to Hamilton & back to Auckland with existing rolling stock even if the times are not suitable for peak as it will be useful for many for other purposes as the Saturday overloaded trip shows.
    Once Auckland/Northland track upgrades & fix ups are done, surely some work on this Waikato end of line can be done, would be great for freight too.
    So get the speed up as Matt says.
    Third main is being worked on so will be done some soon by the time other things can be done.
    Really be so much better getting into a station (Puhinui best probably) so we get direct Auckland’s metro Eastern line access opening up a huge coverage area without additional transfers & time.
    An additional station at Te Kauwhata is most likely to be done with lowest cost and is a good distance between the current ones with pretty good population with plans for quite a bit more I think from memory.
    Work on a Pokeno one at the same time, bit more tricky and costly and placement could be an issue. Pukekohe as well but may be an issue with electrification etc upgrades, so maybe just for short/medium term thing.
    This would give you better patronage & by then the increase in speed will off-set the extra stops.
    There is Waikato regional bus services they have and working up that fill in lots of the gaps and can supplement all this.
    At the same time work on getting some trains that allow more services & run dual mode/faster etc further into the Auckland network/Britomart.
    If they get that underground central Hamilton station done as alluded to then the Frankton one can be ditched.

    1. To do it sucessfully the Waikato needs to combine all their Councils into one like they did in Auckland . And with AT trying to talk to them it’s like a parent talking to their kids and each want it done a different way .

      And with the likes of Pokeno , Tuakau and TK who controls that area ? . The Regional or District Council .

      1. I feel like right now only the Waikato Regional Council is taking the train seriously. From the transit experience at Papakura I feel like AT is neglecting Te Huia, the platform for Te Huia at Papakura is basically isolated. And I HCC doesn’t put the train service in the 2021-2031 long term plan agenda which is in consultation right now

        1. That’s because I think its really a Waikato regional service that allows a link to the AT Metro service. Talk of end to end time-matching with cars is confusing that. Its also why focus should be the timetable into Hamilton and back again.

          I’m not sure I ever see this going end-to end, for the reasons I stated above. In fact, the more I look at it, it could terminate at Otahuhu, allowing access to the north, eastern line, cross-town line with the western line. Perhaps even a link to the light rail from Mt Roskill-Onehunga in future.

          Like “airport rail” I don’t think the focus should be on end-to-end one seat passengers. That’s a potentially small number of overall commuters. We have to get used to a network built on transfers. A termination at Otahuhu (or even Puhinui itself) still caters for a lot of commuters from the Waikato, via a simple transfer (or two). We seem locked into thinking that most people boarding this train in the Waikato are going to Britomart.

        2. That is absolute rubbish. Talk to the HCC councillors. I know for a fact they are excited about this and dearly want it to work.

    2. Frankton shouldn’t be ditched even if the Hamilton central station is re-opened. There will still be a need for a through station in Hamilton to be used by the long-distance Auckland/Wellington trains.

      1. The train has to pass through Frankton station to get to Hamilton central station.

  23. Why not run the Huia to Newmarket and the Strand (either way round) then back to Westfield. The train is then already turned round so no problem with repositioning the locomotive. The problem is less the Huia, more of providing a path north of Papakura. Sacrificing one Southern Line AT train to provide a path seems a small price to pay. But it all comes back to co-operation, something that seems to be missing.

    1. Yes interesting that they can fit the Northern Explorer in direct to and from The Strand non stop to Papakura on weekday peaks two days a week southbound and also on Saturday. It putts along slowly though to allow not catching up with the AT Metro ones. Not sure you can currently stop at Newmarket though without conflict, certainly be pretty tight and a chance it would hold something up. Post CRL perhaps it could be done a lot easier.

    2. They did ask AT for Newmarket. At said No. They asked for Otahuhu. AT said No. (understandbly the tracks are full with local trains at peak times). They are hoping to get the Sat service to the Strand as of course on Saturdays there are less local trains so there could be a pathway north of Papakura. But again it will be up to AT and Kiwirail to give them the green light. Cross your fingers!

  24. How about extending it at the Hamilton end through to Tauranga? Even just one service leaving Tauranga at 5:45ish and extending the current 4:42 p.m. all the way to Tauranga.
    Stops at Ōmokoroa, Waharoa, and Morrinsville. Seems like you could do it for reasonably small extra cost. You’d pick up a few more passengers all the way to Auckland and get a few just commuting into Hamilton

    1. The Te Huia onboard crew are based and live in Hamilton. If the Te Huia continues onto Tauranga the crew would have based and live in Tauranga.

      Secondly, routine maintenance for the Te Huia is done in Hamilton and the 3 train sets have their own maintenance facility at Te Rapa.

  25. An easy way to improve the Te Huia service right now would be to have it run further north from Papakura, express to Otahuhu station where there are now three platforms. The Te Huia train won’t get in the way of existing suburban EMU services as they are already running empty to Westfield as it is.

    The service needs to also run in the opposite direction to enable people to travel from Auckland (and all The Huia stations in between) to Hamilton.

    This could easily be done by having first train to come through from Hamilton in the morning, turn around on the triangle at Otahuhu and then return to Hamilton (loco leading).

    This train could then return from Hamilton in the late afternoon to be back in time to run the last evening service from Otahuhu back to Hamilton.

    New stations really need to be built at Te Kauwhata, Pokeno and Tuakau which are growing commuter towns and where a lot of people commuting to Auckland will be traveling from. Having more stations serving far more people will help offset the current lack of travel time advantage, and they need to be built as soon as possible.

    Once electrification is finished to Pukekohe, the Te Huia services could stop here instead of Papakura and then run express to Puhinui and Otahuhu.

    The popularity of the Saturday service should be a clear indicator for more weekend services to be put on (in both directions) where there is clearly a demand for them.

    Rail passenger services between Auckland and Mt Maunganui would also be very popular, particularly on weekends.

    1. When looking at the costs mentioned for expanding the Te Huia service and the large subsidy the service requires, it would be interesting to see a full breakdown of the actual costs from KiwiRail for running the services – including how much they are currently spending on sending the crew in a car from Westfield to Hamilton and back each day.

      1. Such a breakdown would probably show that the costs of using cars to transport the crews would be less than the substantial costs of running extra lower-patronage trains plus the excess unproductive crew time in waiting for and travelling on those trains.

        1. I really struggle to believe that the fuel to drive a train back costs more than the fares generated. The layover time is free as you don’t have to take the train up to Otahuhu, in fact, staff would probably be back at Frankton earlier if the train went back, so there is no staff cost. You’d probably only need about 20 passengers to break even on that.
          Then the train can sit at Frankton all day instead and actually act as an advert for itself.

  26. Some points that I think have been overlooked:
    – the train has to go to Otahuhu to turn the loco
    – to drive from Otahuhu to Hamilton takes about an hour and a quarter, while the train takes over two hours and the loco would then have to be turned, so that’s at least an extra unproductive hour for each crew member in each direction
    – if, as suggested, the crews of both trains return on one train rather than by car, one of the crews would have to wait at Otahuhu for at least an hour in each direction, more unproductive time
    – just like the cost of running a car is more than the cost of petrol, the costs of running a train is more than the cost of diesel, with other time- and distance-related costs to be taken into account for the extra 1000+ km/20+ hours that would be run each week
    – even if sufficient (which is questionable, particularly if the passengers are 65 or older as many off-peak passengers are) it may not be easy to generate that level of patronage in the counter-peak direction
    – KiwiRail are substantial users of taxis and rental cars for crew changes, so they can negotiate good deals.

    While it is good to challenge operating practices, I suspect that KiwiRail and the regional council have got it right in this case, and in any case car costs will not be that significant an item in the total running costs of the service.

    1. If nothing else this highlights the absurdity of not being able to use the driving cab, which would negate the need to turn the train at Otahuhu.

      It’s almost as if Kiwirail don’t want to run trains.

      1. Fair comment (though I’m not sure I agree with the last sentence), but
        – irrespective of the driving/loco arrangements – the first train in the morning has got to go somewhere after its Papakura stop to get out of the way of the second, similarly in reverse in the evening, and the closest such “somewhere” is Otahuhu yard.

        1. That somewhere could be back to Hamilton. It’s double tracked most of the way so it would get in the way of the second train, the drivers could just wave if they go past.

          While the comment might not be true Kiwirail are certainly putting up a lot of obstacles. I would have thought they would be a lot more enthusiastic about being involved with something that has real potential to grow into a regional operation in the future.

        2. If the trains were being operated reversibly, certainly (but at a cost, of course).

          However, the built-in push-pull capability, with its resultant operational economy and flexibility, is not being used, despite previous successful operation in NZ and similar operations overseas.

          To my mind that is a much more significant issue to address than the use of cars or taxis, and it would be helpful to have the full background.

        3. I understand the reason for not running with driving-trailers-leading, is that these vehicles (and their drivers) are more vulnerable in level-crossing collisions than heavy locomotives, and having the locomotive on the rear is seen as an added risk to the rest of the train in such an incident. This was less of a problem when the same trains were running around the Auckland network due to an absence of higher-risk, rural level crossings, compared to the Hamilton run. At least that is my understanding.

          It underscores the much higher tolerance of risk on the roads where drivers and passengers routinely travel in vehicles which are much flimsier than anything on the railway, and are regularly involved in head-on collisions with other road vehicles, some being heavy trucks. It begs the question, why are the same train-crews who are exempted from the small risk of driving-trailer-collision in the Te Huia, subjected to the much greater risk of travelling to-and-from Hamilton by road as part of the rostering arrangement???

        4. Dave B (Wellington) , It could be just the Carriage staff going back by car/van and the Loco driver could be taking a Frieghter South .

        5. The issue isn’t the cost of the rental car/taxi, the issue is that you are paying the staff to be driven back to Hamilton when you could be paying them to crew a train back to Hamilton.

          Staff are the biggest marginal cost of running a train, then fuel. When you have the fleet sitting around anyway the marginal cost is practically all there is.

        6. Let’s not forget that it’s not KiwiRail that specifies the level of service, it’s the funders. The funders are paying for two return journeys, not three.

          Increasing the level of service is up to the funders, not up to the operator.

        7. Fully agree with Jezza here. Hamilton is somewhere the train could go to get out of the way of the second one. The only reasons to not do this are:
          The funders can only see this as a service to get white collar Hamiltonians to jobs in Auckland and
          Kiwirail seem incredibly resistant to actually running trains on a track because they might have to maintain the tracks or, in future, run more trains.

  27. Why don’t we treat rail roads the same as paved roads? That is, look on our current rail network as our State Railways to go along side our State Highways. The maintenance and improvement of both networks should be separate from the operation of vehicles over them. The main difference I can see is that, like our air “roads”, the railways need traffic control – a system for booking slots for the platforms and co-ordinating arrival and departure times to avoid clashes (or crashes).

    We should aim to maximise use of all our available transport options and networks. And if the government really believes there is a climate emergency, then efficient transport is even more important – it uses fewer resources and has less environmental impact.

    1. Freighter and passenger train are very different in nature. In operation, freight trains are about the power of locomotives and number of containers each train carries. Passenger trains, which is much lighter and shorter and need much less power, are about speed and frequency.

      Freight service are for direct revenue, but passenger service are for indirect social benefits, such as the net gain in commuting capacity between two places, improved feasibility in urban development, etc.

      If you put freight and passenger service on the same balance book, the balance will always weight to freight (train operators will never capture such social benefits)

      If a ‘open-market’ track time allocation is adopted, it would require heavy payment from government to balance the book of the lost of track time for freight change.

      I mean, either way, I would be happy to take the train and not drive my car if a schedule suits me, but I would also be happy if the number of trucks on state highways are reduced – which generally means less traffic and road works.

      NZ has potential to invest in the national railway network, the demand is there for both passenger and cargo services.

      About climate emergency, imagine if the electrification of the NIMT was done properly 30 years ago, how much more feasible we would be today for such railway usage. So strange that the seemingly the easiest bit was left behind and that bit need 10~20 years to be done now.

      1. “So strange that the seemingly the easiest bit was left behind and that bit need 10~20 years to be done now” – actually, not strange at all. The difficult bit was electrified because the more difficult the terrain the greater the advantages of electric traction for freight haulage, and those advantages are not nearly so pronounced on flat, relatively straight territory.

        A further factor is the splitting up of the railway network, so that the Auckland electrification is exclusively urban passenger and the NIMT exclusively long-distance freight, operated by different organisations. This means that the undoubted network synergies from filling the electrification gap (which did not exist 30 years ago, when Auckland electrification was not even a pipedream) are difficult to realise.

        1. The plan was to electrify from Hamilton to Tauranga once the electrification reached The Rapa, but the coporatisation of NZR with Rogernomics going on by that stage in the mid 1980s put an end to that.

        2. Have you a reference for that as a firm plan, rather than just an idea? With the Kaimai Tunnel already completed by then, the East Coast Main Trunk does not share the sinuous heavily-graded mountain-railway characteristics that drove the NIMT electrification (and NZR was corporatised before the NIMT electrification was started.)

        3. I believe I read it in an interview with NZR’s Deputy General Manager Bob Henare in a copy of Rails magazine from 1985.

          The electrification of the NIMT was one of the Muldoon Government’s Think Big projects which was approved in 1981.

          NZ Railways became a corporation in 1982. It became a State-owned enterprise (SOE) in 1986. From this point onwards there was large scale restructuring, downsizing and cost cutting.

        4. I suspect the plan to electrify the ECMT between Hamilton and Tauranga was to remove the number of diesel locomotive running through the Kaimai tunnel, which of course is an issue now today.

          I believe Ontrack did a study and costings into extending the electrification from Papakura through to Tauranga, but funding remains the issue.

          This would certainly be worthwhile project for the Government to fund to help reduce transport carbon emissions on this busy route.

      2. Agree. The Government really needs to restructure the rail industry by separating the infrastructure and rail passenger services away from KiwiRail and regional councils / AT, and vest them in a new government owned rail agency, or the NZTA.

        This would address the current issues with public transport when it needs to cross regional boundaries.

        The Government is also realistically the only entity with the resources on the scale needed for investment in rail for passenger services.

        A State-owned nationwide rail passenger entity could be established with the roll out of a nationwide public transport smart card.

        1. Yip. It was telling in Kiwirail CEO Miller’s column in today’s NZ Herald where he almost exclusively talked about freight except when mentioning urban passengers rail. Not even once did he mention regional or long distance passenger rail.

  28. The numbers don’t sound bad for the first week of a service with two trains a day at unsociable hours. I’d wager that a 2 hour frequency in each direction and an extension to Puhinui would be the steps needed to get the kind of behavioural change that brings long-term ridership, e.g. moving house, relocating a company close to a station.

    Longer-term, as for rolling stock, perhaps the NZ Government could sponsor a Kiwirail-compatible version of Hitachi’s bi-mode AT300 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hitachi_A-train) as the UK Government did? That would give a comfortable vehicle which could be used under the wires into Central Auckland and Wellington, but diesel where there are no wires or when the power has to be turned off

    1. If you read up about those British trains you’ll find that many people – including operators and passengers – are not that happy with the process or the result. It’s an approach that’s full of pitfalls for the unwary!

    2. What is need, the government invest the $3 billion to upgrade and electrified the Pukekohe to Te Rapa rail corridor for higher freight and passenger train movements.

      Better still, the national track infrastructure, signaling and train control needs to be separated from Kwirail to be an ‘open access’ not for profit state entity under the Ministry of Transport and be treated as a stragetic national steel highway asset like the State Highway and national regional roads are.

      1. That’s the British model. In contrast Germany and Switzerland have an State Owned Enterprise that runs rail services and the tracks, these two countries have superior passenger rail system to Britain.

        The problem isn’t Kiwirail owning and running the tracks, it’s how they’re funded and governed.

        1. Nothing wrong with the UK’s Network Rail and Victoria’s Victrack as they operate as ‘open access’ not for profit operations, so why can NZ’s national track infrastructure be the same?

  29. It’s interesting how much focus is on the travel time involved in this service. I get that there are definite opportunities to improve the current speed/delays but my view is that I would have over 90 minutes on this train to get some productive work done (read stuff, work on laptop, make calls, etc). Heck, I’d be using that as part of the marketing pitch for the service. How much productive work can you (legally) do while driving to/from Auckland instead? It’s a bit like people who compare travel time for cycling vs driving – even when the car wins the race (not always), I’ve just had an exercise workout on the bike while the car driver will still have to spend some additional time later to get the same amount of exercise perhaps at a gym…

  30. Could Te Huia run all the way into Britomart by using a diesel locomotive at one end at an electric locomotive at the other (push / pull configuration) – therefore not needing to operate the diesel unit beyond Papakura northbound and not operating the electric unit southbound beyond Papakura?

    1. We’re short on electric locos as it is I believe. So we’d have to buy more. They would also be doing nowhere near their maximum amount of work, while still having heaps of kms put on them.
      So probably not.

  31. I have re read the whole thing plus the 205 comments bit boring really. Presumably the people who came up with this service did so in good faith and this is the best they could come up with at this point. So what tweaks can be made in the short term to try and improve the situation. To me it comes down to if you can’t have speed and obviously we can’t then at least you can have frequency. Plenty of frequency between Britomart and Papakura. So in addition to the two Hamilton Papakura return trains we need at least one Papakura Hamilton return train service which would give Aucklanders four or five hours in Hamilton. There is already a Pukekohe Pokeno bus service running throughout the day if this bus was extended Huntly it could connect to the Hamilton Huntly regular bus service. Also a washup bus service leaving Pukekohe about 8.30 PM to take any stragglers could travel right through to Hamilton.

    1. Royce there is a bus service which runs from Hamilton [9.10am] to Pukekohe and a return in the Afternoon that leaves at 2.15pm . The service is the 21 Northern Connector . It’s a shame it doesn’t do it in reverse in the mornings from Pukekohe . The trouble is it is only a Monday to Friday service .

  32. I was on the first revenue service of Te Huia on 6 April and 17 April.

    The Te Huia train service is a ‘workers’ train similar to the Capital Connection between Palmerston North and Wellington and is car dependent to get to/from Frankton or Rotokauri stations so it raises the question, if I have to use a car to travel to either two stations, why wouldn’t it stop me going on to Auckland by car.

    Currently, the Waikato Regional Council Busit bus services do not connect with the 5.46am Frankton to Papakura service nor the 6.28am Frankton to Papakura service. There are some Busit bus connections for the 6.36am Rotokauri to Papakura service.

    With regards to Te Huia Saturday service there are hardly no Busit bus connections to and from Rotokauri station and there no bus services to and from Frankton station. Once again a car or ride sharing service is need to travel to and from either stations.

    There is no reason using the existing ‘hybrid’ model AT Metro train/Te Huia model for the current 6.28am from Frankton to Papakura returning to Hamilton departing 8.30am and depart Frankton 4.30pm to Papakura and returning to Hamilton as the existing 6.25pm from Papakura. This would allow travelers from Auckland to do a day excursion to Hamilton.

    The Waikato Regional Council needs to have connecting bus services from the city’s western, eastern and southern suburbs including the Hamilton Transport Centre for the 6.36am service from Rotorkauri to get more locals using Te Huia for work and/or leisure travel.

    What should have happened initially, to operate one morning service with connecting buses at Rotokauri station using a 4 or 5 carriage train set departing Frankton 6.28am/6.36am from Rotokauri to Papakaura returning to Hamilton at 8.30am and depart Frankton 4.30pm/4.38pm from Rotokauri to Papakura and returning to Hamilton as the 6.25pm from Papakura. As passenger loading’s increase then at add 5.46am from Frankton and the 4.42pm from Papakura.

    The Waikato Regional Council is pushing both AT and Kiwirail to have Te Huia terminating at Puhinui as soon as possible and ultimately The Stand.

    1. Interesting, but there are two reasons for the proposed return trains not operating as proposed:

      – no funding
      – insufficient time at Papakura for the loco to turn/run round.

      Given sufficient money both are fixable, but political will is required.

      1. They could possibly return it as long nose forward , instead of turning it around .

        And I also got the 1st service from Rotokauri and I was lucky as the person who I was staying with had an early start that morning , otherwise I would have had to get the ACW Orbiter from the Universty stop , to get the 2nd train .

        1. Running long nose forward would need a second person in the cab, with the associated additional funding requirement (and assuming that it is still acceptable on passenger trains – it hasn’t been common practice for years); and I’m not sure that Papakura has run-round facilities.

      1. Thanks for that very useful summary of morning bus connections.

        A major failing of the Te Huia website etc is that it treats it as an isolated transport service, not even giving the times of the connecting AT trains that most users will probably catch. Working out what you get to Britomart, or what train from there you have to catch back, is entirely up to you. That’s dumb.

        So with essential information about the key connecting service missing, it’s really no surprise that bus connections are ignored.

        Te Huia is not a standalone service but a link between two networks, and it’s a shame that the powers that be don’t really seem to get that.

        1. All they need to do is download the AT app, all the information about connecting trains is there, not that difficult in 2021. And you get up to date info about service disruptions. Printed timetables are going the way of cheques.

        2. Hamilton and Waikato (and basically every cities outer Auckland) are endorsing the Transit app, which is actually rather good. They push official announcement through the app so I’d recommend having that. The app include Auckland transport’s information.

          Moreover, information are also pushed through to Google Map (although it wasn’t 100% correctly for He Huia especially for Saturdays), I don’t find it difficult to plan the trips.

          For transfers, although it isn’t well informed, Hamilton bus (Orbiter) has the opportunity to transfer to the train at Rotokauri (Frankton weirdly has no bus stop hence not mentioning it).

          The earlier departs from Rotokauri at 5:54am has Orbiter bus arrives at 5:55am and 5:56am. Take in account that early morning bus usually arrives early, they should be just enough to catch the train. And for 6:36’s train there are buses at 6:31 and 6:34.
          For the return train, riders can transfer to buses at Rotokauri waiting for just 5 minutes, I think this is OK.

          And for Auckland side, the Southern Line will be running at peak frequency so transfer is easy. The only missing connection is the return train from Auckland on Saturday.

          I would like to see regular riders’ observation about transfer experience: do they see the bus arrives before the Te Huia train departs from Rotokauri? Are there any riders transferring from the bus? Will the train wait for the bus?

          All of the above stuff should be a no-brainier to be done, and should be formally announced to train riders

        3. Yuen – Currently the Transit App only covers Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch and use to cover Timaru. It doesn’t Rotorua, Palmerston North, Napier/Hastings, Queenstown, Dunedin, Blenheim and Nelson.

          Whilst I have the Metlink and AT apps, I use the Transit app for times and travel planning.

  33. “Not that difficult in 2021” may apply to you, but there are many people for whom that is not the case. Excluding them from information makes mo sense, and if the app is all we need why does AT have a website and printed timetables?

    Adding connecting info to the Te Huia website wouldn’t be hard, and not to do it is dumb.

  34. “if it ran non-stop from Britomart to Puhinui it could give airport travellers an option for a faster trips to the airport”

    ERR, how will this train overtake the other local trains that are using the same tracks. Will it jump over them? Plus only a tiny % of trips to the Airport start or finish at Britomart. There is already a 24/7 service from Auckland CBD to the airport called the SkyBus.

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