Interior of the Northern Explorer. Image Credit: Wayne Tsai, via his blog on Medium.

This is a guest post by Michael Nicholson. It first appeared in the Rail and Maritime Transport Union’s newsletter, Transport Worker. It is republished here with the permission of the RMTU. Images have been added by Greater Auckland.

With the opening of the Hamilton to Auckland link, long distance lines are in for upgrades and discussion. Michael Nicholson looks at the state of play in the North Island.


Te Huia – Hamilton to Auckland

Fledgling inter-regional passenger rail between Hamilton and Auckland began on April 6 under the brand Te Huia. This route has huge potential to succeed. Growing traffic congestion and regional  population growth spurred by more affordable housing, an awareness of our carbon footprint, comfort and the ability to use travel time productively has spurred the interest.

Te Huia route. Credit: Waikato Regional Council.

Continuous improvement and ongoing investment will be needed to ensure this route becomes an integral part of our transport network. Government has indicated they are supportive with Transport Minister, Michael Wood saying: “There are a range of potential improvements the Government is exploring, including more stops along the way, different timetables, and expansion beyond Papakura into Auckland.”

Image from Te Huia Travel with Us video. Credit: Waikato Regional Council

Te Huia is a Waikato Regional Council initiative in conjunction with NZTA. It has been funded for a five-year trial and KiwiRail has been contracted to operate services. Currently two morning trains
depart Frankton (0546 and 0628), with two afternoon trains south from Papakura (1642 and 1825). There is also a Saturday service with additional off-peak and weekend trains mooted to be added progressively.

Currently passengers change at Papakura to the Auckland Transport (AT) train services. Total travel time from Frankton to Auckland CBD is about two and half hours. Start-up investment includes three train sets (12 carriages total) which were refurbished at the Hutt Railway Workshops. The refurbishing included comfortable seats, toilets, cafe and bar, Wi-Fi and bicycle racks. New or upgraded stations have been created at Frankton, Rotokauri and Huntly with possible new stops at Ngaruawahia, Te Kauwhata, Pokeno and Tuakau to be added in time.

Reopening the central Hamilton underground station or building a new central station close to Seddon Park as well as a new station at Claudelands (east side of river), are being discussed.

Extending trains north to the new Puhinui Interchange is likely to take place sometime in 2021 thus taking trains 12km closer to Auckland CBD, improving overall travel time, giving a direct connection to the Eastern and Southern Lines and doubling available AT trains for transfers.

Possible future options could include running trains in continuous loops out-and-back to Hamilton Finishing electrification from Pukekohe to Hamilton would seem a logical and urgent development.  Electric inter-regional passenger trains could then travel directly from the Auckland Central Rail Link tunnel to Hamilton’s CBD and freight and long-distance passenger trains could use clean electric energy between Auckland and Palmerston North.


Capital Connect – Palmerston North to Wellington

This is a well-established inter-regional service which has been operating for around 30 years.

The Capital Connection. Image credit: The Man in Seat 61, via twitter.

Immediate plans are to replace the current carriages with two refurbished train sets identical to Te Huia. Additional morning and afternoon peak services have been discussed as well as off-peak weekday and weekend services.

The new rolling stock will be used as a shared pool of regional rolling stock operating over both regional Wairarapa and inter-regional Palmerston North routes. There has been talk of some sort of hybrid railcar technology, consisting of possibly fixed four carriage consists. An order of between 15 and 25 railcars has been discussed and it would seem hopeful, from comments in the media, that an order will be at the upper end for reasons of future proofing and reduction of price per set.

Horizons Regional Council has indicated they would eventually like to incorporate Wanganui, Marton and Feilding to the inter-regional passenger rail system.


Auckland to Wellington

KiwiRail is currently undertaking a feasibility assessment on passenger rail services between Wellington and Auckland.

Regional authorities along the North Island Main Trunk (NIMT) have been promoting the introduction of a ‘connector’ passenger train on this route, which connects four major cities and 42% of New Zealand’s population plus numerous smaller centres and a large catchment area not well served by public transport. There are also many attractions in the National Park area, such as skiing, walks, cycling etc, which could be well served by such a service.

The Ohakune Train Station. Image credit: jokennedy2015, via Tripadvisor. This photo of Ohakune is courtesy of Tripadvisor

The service would have the added convenience of city-centre to city-centre departures, efficient use of time while travelling, ability to connect smaller communities as well as larger ones, act as an economic and tourism enabler, would be a safer travel option than road transport, reduce and avoid road traffic congestion and create significantly less carbon emissions per passenger than other modes.


Sleeper trains

Auckland to Wellington has been identified internationally as an ideal route to operate modern overnight trains. All measures compare favourably on this route, including: distance, travel time, passenger potential, improved community connectivity, improved travel safety and reduction of carbon emissions in the travel sector.

Modern overnight sleeper travel could serve different needs in the travel market.

Sleepers for longer distance city-to-city connectors would provide comfortable travel at convenient departure and arrival times, between the four major cities along this route. It is the only realistic way to attract people from domestic air travel (which is very polluting), over longer distances.

Seating carriages would cater for shorter trips and also improve travel options and flexibility on the Auckland to Hamilton and Wellington to Palmerston North inter-regional corridors by adding evening departure options. They would connect smaller centres and also provide a convenient option for those people on a limited budget.

Sleeper train services increase again in Europe with a new provider. Image credit: Midnight Trains

Evening departures at around 2030 and arriving after 0830 would avoid commuter peak periods in both Auckland and Wellington. Overnight train travel is not about the speed of a journey but all about convenient departure and arrival times and the comfort of the journey. Twelve hours journey times enable convenient departure and arrival times, make-up time to ensure reliable on-time arrivals, smooth train handling and additional station stops. Modern passenger rolling stock could include innovations such as tight automatic couplers for reduced train slack and for a smoother ride, Wi-Fi and showers.


Day trains

Northern Explorer trains currently operate three times per week focused exclusively on the tourism market. For a daytime connector train to be effective, trains would need to operate daily in each direction. Daytime trains could provide two classes of travel: Tourism Class and Connector Class.

‘Tourism Class’ – Could provide more comfort and a high standard of catering to suit higher paying tourist travellers (domestic and international), aimed at longer distance leisure travellers for which time is not an issue while at the same time servicing business travellers over shorter trips.

‘Connector Class’ – Shorter journeys suited to daylight connector style train travel with six hours seen as the reasonable limit, after which overnight journeys are seen as a more attractive option. This rough guide is promising for this daytime route, given that National Park is centred at the midway point of just over five hours travel time. Daytime connector travel could mainly target National Park attractions, connect towns-to-cities, provide day returns north and south of National Park, and would also complement the Hamiliton-to-Auckland and Palmerston North-to-Wellington corridors. Secondarily, it could encourage full journey travel to those people on a limited budget.

New, purpose-built rolling stock would seem to make sense: modern self-propelled, fast acceleration, able to build-up and reduce the size of trains as required, fast self-loading with saloon luggage racks (checked luggage only in ‘Tourism Class’) and large exterior doors for shorter station dwell times. In fact a standard railcar type for New Zealand’s daytime long-distance inter-regional and corridor services could simply be fitted out as required.

The Norther Explorer. Image Credit: Auckland i-site.

The current Northern Explorer AK carriages could be sent to the South Island, forming a consistent South Island carriage fleet perhaps facilitating the initiation of a Christchurch to Dunedin service?


Leadership

KiwiRail pretty much scoffs at any suggestion of passenger rail expansion. They seem perfectly content with their little tourism operation. While this is deeply disappointing to many New Zealanders, especially in light of the many positive developments and massive investment internationally, this position is not entirely KiwiRail’s fault given the limitations of being a State Owned Enterprise.

Central Government has declared a climate emergency and made commitments to reduce carbon emissions in New Zealand. The largest contributor of carbon emissions is the transport sector and passenger rail could make a positive and real difference.

Government policy on reducing carbon emissions needs to be followed up with real alternatives to air travel and road transport.

For progress to be made in developing inter-regional and long-distance passenger rail, responsibility needs to be taken away from regional councils. It is unrealistic to expect a national passenger network to fall out of ad-hoc developments such as Te Huia and the Capital Connection.

Central Government needs to set-up a passenger rail authority, which would coordinate and oversee strategy and the development of a national passenger rail network. This agency needs:

  • expectations and goals,
  • to be tasked with the develop of a strategy for network development, including corridor service, connector and tourism development plans,
  • to assess station placement and development opportunities in each community, taking into account catchment areas and integration with other modes,
  • to aim to provide an easy-to-use, integrated low carbon system,
  • to develop plans for the purchase of appropriate rolling stock and plan for the introduction of new rail passenger services,
  • to set timelines and targets, and
  • have realistic funding for development and a mechanism to fund ongoing operations.
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124 comments

    1. Transdev seem to run a good service. They managed to beat out KiwiRail for the Wellington contract. If the government is serious, they just need to put out an RFP and get going. KiwiRail is clearly not interested.

      1. You need to remember that Kiwirail also owns the national rail infrastructure network and train control which is currently a closed network and would discreetly ‘block’ network access to any ‘new’ rail services operator citing that their service would disrupt Kiwirail’s current freight and 3 long distance passenger train services. If Kiwirail did allow network access, it will be expensive.

        Kiwirail has its own agenda and will advise government on what government wants to hear.

        1. I disagree with your assesment Chris. KiwiRail would not block the development of rail services nor be permitted to by both the Govt and the Rail union.

        2. Wayne – I wouldn’t be to sure. If the Government tells Kiwirail to operate regional and inter-regional passenger trains, they will do it but they will not do it themselves or would make it difficult for any other commercial rail service operator to have the access to the national track network.

        3. Chris – Public Transport Forum – There are 30+ old AT SA/SD carriages being converted at Hillside to be used on the Network around NZ . these are being upgraded by a private company who will operate this service but what I have seen KR will supply the Locomotives and possibly the Drivers . But now with this virus that is floating around why can’t they hire the carriages and use them on an overnight service between Auckland and Wellington return ? .

          https://www.stuff.co.nz/travel/news/116106253/luxury-new-zealand-train-project-may-be-delayed

        4. david L- I believe that work on the carriages for the Antipodean Explorer has been suspended as of June 2020 until further notice.

        5. Chris – Public Transport Forum , I sort have wondered about that , as when they had the Tv cameras at the rebuild of Hillside there was a quick scene of a passener carriage shown and I was wondering wethier it was theirs or was KR rebuilding one of the carriages bought off AT .

        6. Chris – Public Transport Forum -If you check this out at the 15:58 section and it comes from Newshub that night you can see the Passenger Carriage being upgraded . ;-

  1. Surely a night service has to arrive earlier than 0830, something like 0630 instead. If they can’t run AKL to WEL overnight in 10 hours then the railway should just be disbanded really

    1. Night service arivals are tricky, because you can arrive too early i.e. before a lot of the things people want to do are open. It is also often good to park up for a bit some where in the middle. The Vienna-Munich train stops in Salzburg or Passau for about 3 hours and it still gets to Munich way too early, still you get a good motionless period in the prime sleeping hours. I often use sleeper services for work here in Europe and I prefer the later arrivals as usually I don’t need to be at my destination until after 10. In this case timing the train to offer an extra serivce between Hamilton and Auckland and Palmy and Wellington would be worth the later arrival (and the same in reverse in the evenings.

    2. But 0830 arrival would mean departure from Hamilton or Palmerston North at around 0630, meaning the same train can double as a useful inter-regional service.

    3. Completely agree with an earlier arrival time. I travel between Auckland and Wellington regularly as part of my job, and generally need to be on-site before 8:30am. Arriving so late would be particularly problematic in Auckland, where offices aren’t necessarily within walking distance of Britomart (even more so if it terminated in Papakura!). 6:30 or 7am would be ideal.

      1. I’ve got to agree. I’d be travelling for sports tournaments, with first games/races I usually need to be at my destination by 0830. if we are only going to have one, we should have the 0630/0700 arrival. Ideally we would have an 0600 and an 0800/0830. The only trouble with an 0600 arrival is that it means leaving before 2000, which is why I think we want both.

  2. Obviously spare carriages are needed but surely something like a ski train from AKL/HAM and WEL to Ruapehu could be a goer? 4 hours trip leaving 4/5pm on a Thursday/Friday and back late afternoon on the Sunday?

      1. Hmmm, the cheapest option for someone Ski/Board inclined is $899, which doesn’t cover getting up and down Ruapehu. You also have the opportunity cost of attaching yourself to one side of Ruapehu.

        Train ONLY is $239 per adult return (to Ohakune).

        Surely there can be some collaboration between interests to make this more competitive with car travel? Even a single person driving a gas guzzler will find it cheaper to drive to Auckland and back, and they can drive themselves up the mountain, and they can leave / arrive whenever they want.

        1. Its a vintage railway, and a non-profit organization, they’re selling the novelty and experience of the train. Not really the practicality.
          With that in mind, I really wish they were using a steam loco. I’d buy a ticket on that instantly

        2. Unfortunately their Ja locomotive 1250 needs a new boiler and that’s the only main line capable steam loco that they have.

        3. That’s $899 for TWO people, including accommodation & breakfasts. Yep, sure, you could do it cheaper in a car but then you have to do all the driving yourself and still find a place to stay. As others have said, it’s the novelty and experience as much as anything. Personally, the train to National Park with a guided walk of the Tongariro Crossing looks quite attractive…

      2. Looking at that Package the GVR are doing it . They tried the something similar in February in conjunction with Auckland Council’s Tourism Dept and the Helensville AMP Society but it was canned by KR as they closed the line between Papakura and Pukekohue that weekend and the return Fare was only $10.00 .

    1. I would love this. The pleasure of a weekend away without the awfulness of huge traffic jams in each direction. So much to see and do in central North Island. When I lived in London there were always thousands of weekend travellers heading out from each of the big rail termini every Friday night. Imagine if they’d all been in cars!

  3. SOE status apparently hinders KiwiRail undertaking passenger operations, a situation exacerbated by a board and management focussed on profitable freight operations. Then there’s the significant anti-rail antipathy that characterises senior echelons of both the Ministry of Transport and the transport agency Waka Kotahi. Needs a clear out of the stables of rail governance in this country for any chance of the sort of rational services proposed in this excellent post!

    1. Is it anti-rail or just sensible? I would love decent fast rail in NZ as much as anyone, but it will never stack up financially. And I’m not sure slow crappy rail does either because for most people time matters. If there is a service that can attract enough users to make sense without massive subsidies then that’s great, but I don’t think there is. Te Huia is probably the most sensible and that has already cost $100 million plus running costs, I would hate to think what the subsidy is per passenger. All of the improvements will probably add another $100 million.
      There is a lot of infrastructure needed in NZ at the moment, we need to spend taxpayer money wisely and I don’t think long distance rail should be making the list compared to hospitals, water, public transport in cities, walking and cycling, renewable energy, built environments, houses, etc.

      1. Aviation gets all sorts of subsidies. Examples include no GST on the domestic legs of international travel, taxpayer and ratepayer support for airports (eg Taupo), and ratepayer support for airlines (eg Kapiti providing over $1m to Air Chathams to provide one flight per day to Auckland). We should get rid of those.

        1. Aviation gets far more than that. Aviation runs as a marginally profitable business between Government bailouts. One theory is that commercial aviation has lost more money than it has ever made (if you include the cost of aircraft).

        2. And then there’s all the money going into low emissions aviation research as if somehow it’s important to continue the highly inequitable mode. It’s money which could be going into research on a more fundamentally energy-efficient mode or industry instead.

      2. Jimbo, “it will never stack up financially” is not something I’ve ever seen defended successfully, and I don’t believe it in the slightest. Would you like to lay out your rationale and let us pick it apart?

        The costs of the emissions from aviation and of driving are enormous, and they’re just the start.

        1. Heidi I agree. But the answer is to not subsidise anything, rather than to subsidise everything. If flights and driving was 10x more expensive then yes people may choose rail or they may even choose to not go at all.
          Whatever they do they need to consider what is the best use of money (in this case in terms of the environment). They can’t use the environment as an excuse to spend huge amounts of money on anything. Lets say for example they spent $20 billion on high speed rail Auckland to Wellington, and lets say that decreased the number of Auckland to Wellington flights by 50%, is that really the best environmental outcome that $20 billion can buy? Same with Te Huia – for $100 million we have got a few hundred cars off the road, its probably way cheaper to pay them not to go in the first place.

        2. Absolutely, but no subsidy to driving and flying would take a very progressive and cohesive government to achieve. We don’t have that; we have RoNS and RoNS-lite. Second best is to reduce as much subsidy to driving and flying as we can while increasing subsidy for rail so it can compete somewhat.

          Holding out for no subsidy to driving and flying would be an effective delaying technique. We have enough of those. 🙂

        3. We would be a lot less mobile without transport subsidies. It starts with footpaths, which are pretty much impossible to provide by user pays.

          Then we have PT being subsidised to ensure mobility and accessibility for as much of the population as possible even if they can’t afford it. This is pretty much the sole reason PT exists outside of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

          Then we have the indirect benefits of PT to ensuring the road network continues to function, this is best paid for by car users not PT users.

      3. JimboJones – The $100 million includes the build of the Rotokauri bus/train interchange at Te Rapa, upgrading Huntly railway station, 3 DFB locomotives, 3 sets of passenger rolling stock, funding of the service for 5 years.

        I am not sure where you got the information that it s $100 million plus subsidies.

        1. Were the DFB locomotives purchased by the Waikato District council or are they just leased from Kiwirail.

        2. Royce – The three DFB locomotives are branded ‘Te Huia’ and only used for Te Huia services and not for any freight services.

          The Waikato Regional Council do not own any of the Te Huia rolling stock including the locomotives as it is owned by Kiwirail. It is a similar arrangement as the Capital Connection where Kiwirail owns the rolling stock and provide the train crew and drivers.

        3. That the same as AT did with the Locomotives in Auckland the only thing AT did was rebrand them in Dark Blue with the MAXX brand on them .

    2. KiwiRail struggle to run their freight operation as it is. Not enough locos (35% of DL fleet out of service, it was as bad as 41%!), not enough drivers (Te Rapa is short several drivers and shunts for the likes of Mainfreight and Fonterra are cancelled regularly), and a worrying increase in derailments and failures of late. At some point the issue is no longer funding, but one with management. Notice how they have managed to REDUCE the amount of freight carried by rail. Something is wrong. We need open access so that when KiwiRail can’t/won’t provide a service on the Nation’s railway, then someone else can. End the obfuscation between below rail capital funding and above rail subsidy!

    3. They probably wont have a freight service for too much longer. My company sends about 40 containers between Auckland and Palmerston North most days, and are likely to abandon rail in the near future. It’s cheaper and more convenient to send 40 trucks each day instead.

      Kiwirail seriously need to sort their business model.

    4. AMTRAK in the USA is also a SOE as such and also has to turn a profit even though it’s funded by the Government , and they are at the whims of whoever is in power like here , one wants the service [Dems there , Labour here ] and the other wants to run it into the ground [ Republicans there . National here ] . So basically Rail goes through a different cycle depends on whose in power at the time .

  4. The key to all of this surely is immediate electrification of Hamilton to Puke & Tauranga as well as Palmy to Wellington. Without that, all of this is moot or pointless

    1. An electrification program for those parts of the network would make sense even without the additional possibilities for passenger services that it’d unlock.

    2. Problem here is Auckland and Wellington are electrified on different voltages so you’ll need expensive bimodal trains to access both

      1. Dual voltage technology has been around since at least the 1970s. The French TGVs have always had to use at least two voltages because French high-speed lines use 25kV; the rest of the system uses 1,500V.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SNCF_TGV_Sud-Est

        This is mainstream technology. Yes it would cost more than single-voltage equivalent but not insurmountably more. Almost certainly cheaper than rewiring the entire Wellington system.

      2. Not a huge issue for the relatively small number of trains that would cover the whole route. The only challenging bit might be what to do between Palmerston North and Fielding. It’s currently 25kV AC but may will have commuter services from Wellington extended to Feilding at some point.

        1. 25kV AC Jess’s. Wellington can invest in some dual voltage rolling stock to service the route.
          Most of the world is on 25kV for a reason – it’s better. Eventually if the entire Wellington fleet was dual mode then they could start replacing that network with 25kV too as it comes up for renewal.

        2. If the Palmerston North freight hub is built, then it really has to be 25kv to there, at least then single voltage locos can still be used anywhere north.

        3. That’s the best solution, start mainlt from Auckland end all way to Wellington time in the locomotives Duel or change of voltage type as required.

    3. We discussed that very point – electrification of the entire route – a couple of years ago – extensively.
      https://www.greaterauckland.org.nz/2017/01/25/guest-post-locomotion/
      Electrification is indeed possible as are dual voltage locomotives, was the general conclusion – although the comments at the time was that this would never happen. Seeing as a decent chunk of the Auckland to Hamilton route is actually getting electrified, as is a smaller chunk of the Wellington to Palmerston route, a lot of what people said at the time would never happen – is actually happening. Seems to me that it is all actually feasible to plan for an all-electric Auckland-Wellington route within the next 10 years.

  5. Extend a branch to Taupo via Rotovegas and run it down the the main road of Taupo township itself.

    (I am not kidding, this would own).

    Bonus points for connecting it to NIMT so you could get to Ohakune/The Plateau.

  6. I really like the focus here on service corridors rather than individual services. It recognises that a higher overall level of service can be provided by different trains with different purposes using the same corridors. I think one of the most frustrating things about the Northern Explorer is that it doesn’t act as an additional regional rail service even thought it connects the major regional centers on it’s route. I think if more strategic thought was put in to how all of the different routes we currently have interact, and how they could cater to wider demographics then we could acchieve some pretty easy wins in terms of increasing the utility of the services offered.

  7. Trains are an obvious move to reducing out carbon emissions, particularly electrified versions. Perhaps a lot of track work is needed, but if the country is serious about climate change (as we claim to be on paper), this is a blaringly obvious solution. Besides the fact that trains are an amazing way to travel, the excitement for children, the romance for adults, and the efficiency for professionals. An Auckland Wellington Night train should be first fo the rank.

  8. Talk of additional service is well & good, but the existing hugely subsidized Te Huia is mostly empty.
    https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/125457191/te-huia-hamiltonauckland-train-nearly-three-months-on-why-are-many-seats-still-empty
    Without the journey time becoming much faster, I don’t think patronage will change.
    If this service wasn’t subsidized, the bus would be better value for money. It would be interesting to see if bus patronage is down by similar numbers taking the train.

    1. You need a service to justify any serious infrastructure upgrades.
      You can picture the headlines now if there wasn’t : “x party builds rail line upgrades for service that doesn’t exist, nor are there plans to”. Chicken vs egg, and Te Huia is the unfortunately ugly chicken born.

      The government is doing what only the government is in the position to. Burn money in the short term in return for a change in the economics. It doesn’t make any sense to invest in long distance rail in the current climate, nor would it probably in the medium term. But long term investment in something that will only make sense in the long term, after taking losses for potentially decades, it is something that no private venture ever could do, and will be a better “end” position for the country.

      The bus would make more sense in the short term, as would basically any other option, helicopters were mentioned. But that isn’t the point. This is a long term play, that only makes sense if considered with future infrastructure investment, increases in carbon prices, upgrades in intracity PT / cycling, etc.

    2. Have to start somewhere, Auckland’s passenger services had a farebox recovery of less than 20 % at one point. Also the cost per service will come down as more services can be run.

      I agree that patronage won’t grow without improvements to the speed. However, it is inevitable that the train will be sped up, even if it is just being able to run to the Strand in 2024 when the third main opens.

    3. Anthony
      The problem is that the road link has been subsidised even more. What would a toll be for Akld-Hamilton to pay for the cost of the new Expressway, if the Northern Gateway toll is about $2.60? $12, $15 or $20 maybe?

      If there was a toll at this level I imagine that the limited service Te Huia would be consistently full. Toll roads in Italy are priced to recover the cost of building the roads and the consequence is that the high speed trains can operate at great frequency because they are so well patronised.

      I note today that Treasury is concerned that govt borrowing will become unsustainable. Perhaps serious conversations need to happen about road users paying the true cost, and govt funds going to more worthy recipients such as health and housing?

      1. The Northern Gateway Toll doesn’t even come remotely close to covering the costs. Annual income is about $25,000,000 minus collection costs. It barely covers operations, maintenance and interest on a loan for construction.

        1. @average human
          no no, the solution is to build another motorway section (potentially more) and put a whole lot of greenfields houses out there. Captive market

        2. Sailor Boy
          Why is there an intention to remove the toll in 2038 or thereabouts? What has been paid for then?

        3. The sole purpose of the toll is to pay the debt taken to cover half the cost of the Northern Gateway tollroad, the other half was funded from the NLTF.

          2038 was the date forecast for paying this loan off, although I recall seeing that the period was extended at one point.

    4. Just a station at Te Kauwhata would significantly improve patronage. How much should that cost given the remnants of the old station are still there.
      And getting to the point where Te Huia can run every Saturday instead of once a month would also help. How many passenger train services worldwide have to fight against that sort of restriction?

    5. And here is the new fares for the Te huia from 12th July ;-

      Our introductory fares are finishing up and from 12 July, Te Huia fares will match the Waikato zonal bus fare structure.

      The Bee Card fare between Hamilton and Papakura will reduce from $12.20 to $12.
      The Bee Card fare between Huntly and Papakura will increase slightly from $7.80 to $8.
      Most cash fares will increase.

      https://tehuiatrain.co.nz/fares/12-july-fare-changes/

  9. Electrifying the rest of the NIMT and the ECMT (at least to Tauranga) must surely now be a government priority in terms of emissions targets for freight alone. Add in the improvements it creates for passenger rail would be a big step up.
    I’d also add in electrification to Helensville as part of the existing Auckland network on the newly upgraded line to get hundreds if not thousands of vehicles off the road daily in Auckland’s NW.

    1. Electrification to Helensville won’t even get hundreds of cars off the road each day let alone hundreds of thousands.

      1. I can’t see electrification beyond Swanson being justified, unless there’s a need for overnight shunts between a hypothetical freight yard in Huapai and Westfield. Somewhere I saw that was suggested in the event of Northport partially replacing the POAL.

        If you want to run passenger trains out to Waitakere, Huapai & Helensville, battery-electric multiple units seems like the way to go – and even then, the Northwestern Busway or light rail would be the better choice.

        1. Depends if we’re ever going to get a Northwestern Busway or Light Rail.

          I’ll take whichever one actually ends up existing over the hypothetical perhaps technically better one which never ends up being built.

        2. Then you’ll take a busway, which is at least currently funded and being designed.

        3. There is no other RT in place (and there won’t be for at least a decade past Westgate). Meanwhile congestion around Kumeu is already ridiculous and they plan to build tens of thousands more homes in the NW.
          The HR line is already there, has just been upgraded. Time to get on with a service (diesel in the interim, followed by OLE in future).
          And no Sailorboy, there is no busway to Kumeu or further either approved or even being actively planned. There are bus shoulder lanes to Westgate and everything else is just a pipedream hoping that Light Rail might eventually be built in a few decades time.

  10. There’s still a sizeable number of people who want to go to Wellington from Auckland, and vice versa, so restricting those people to higher priced ‘Tourist Class’ is counter-productive. I have friends in Wgton and took the train last week to visit – partly bc it’s easier on the environment and bc I could afford the time. But I’m not going to pay Tourist Class fares to do that trip.

  11. I keep thinking about EMU,s running non stop say three trips a day between Hamilton and Palmerston North connecting with the Te Huia and Capital Connector. Some late night or early morning services would be buses between Auckland and Hamilton and Wellington and Palmerston North. I am sure CAF would have suitable vehicles similar to the Auckland EMU,s. They could be towed through to Wiri for servicing. I haven’t thought it through but something like 9 am 3 pm and 10 pm ex Hamilton. Stop at all the old stations like back in the day. Only thing is what to do on days they turn the overhead off for maintainence. Probably just run buses. How much do EMU,s cost.

    1. The EMU,s would be miles quicker than locomotive trains on the hilly curvy route through the center of the island. We already have the overheads just need the local councils in conjunction with the Govt to rebuild the stations in the likes of Taihape and Waiouru. Apart from that just purchase the EMU,s and go for it.

    2. I keep thinking about spending the limited amount of money available for rail investment in areas with a significant population like Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch. Not in the Western central North Island where almost nobody lives.

      1. If you look at the top of the page you will find that the topic is long distance passenger trains. Auckland Hamilton and Palmerston North Wellington are regional trains and I have being thinking about them as well. Then we have suburban trains which is where most of the money has being spent. Maybe your right and all the money should be spent on suburban trains but unless you consider what a long distant train would look like and how it would operate and what sort of rolling stock will be used and what the benefits could be in terms of carbon emissions and road safety I would suggest that you have pretty limited thinking.

      2. Does anyone actually know what proportion of the population that travels inter-city each day Royce?

        1. Plane loads and bus loads and car loads. I asked the question on this site once nobody knew. But I know think big built the main trunk electrification it’s damm stupid to run diesel passenger trains under the wire when maybe 5 three car EMU,s could run a pretty intensive services under it. So if they cost $5,million each that’s not a huge sum compared to $300 million for a couple of railway stations to be built at Drury. Or $700 million for a cycling bridge over the harbour or even $1500 million for Mill Road.

        2. And come to think about it its probably not a lot more than what it would cost Kiwirail to build or refurbish 15 carriages which would be needed to run a couple of daily trains between Auckland and Wellington.

        3. Royce , between KR and RES they have purchased the last of the SA/SD carriages that belonged to AT .
          And in the days of Toll Rail they use to swap the Diesel’s at Palmerston North and Hamilton , when the drivers could prove to Management it could be done in 5mins not the 30mins that Management predicted in would take , so why doesn’t KR do now ?.

        4. I was just thinking that I’f say 10% of the general population travels between cities (that would seem a bit high to me but just as a number) then spending $500 mill would be a small amount given the CRL alone will cost $5 bill.
          I dunno. But I’d quite like to know.

  12. Wow, sounds like a lets try that again reboot of old services to me. But at least the train does go Hamilton – Palmerston North in 6hrs 19mins.
    The issue is there is no need for a connector service, thats been proved. If you are doing business in those two cities you can’t afford to waist those 6hrs just getting there. To provide business services the train would have to leave at 3-30am and return around 6pm, BOTH DIRECTIONS. It would not get back until midnight.
    With the current service you are looking at a two night stop over and still there are very few people taking that option because of the cost.
    Nice thought but there are to many other cheaper options that give the business class people a better choice of time. I can see students using the service needing to spend a few days a week in the area but not as a daily communte.

    1. Who said anything about a daily commute? If I needed to be in another city for work for a day then taking a night service to get there and waking up ready to go is probably just as efficient time-wise as sleeping at home and then catching the red eye first thing in the morning (and reverse it at the end of the day). And if it’s a day trip then I’m not “wasting” 6 hrs on a train; I can be productive with a laptop/phone/wifi/etc – try doing that in a car or a plane there…

      1. That’s assuming the extra six hours of journey time are worthless to you – in which case, efficiency doesn’t really matter at all, does it?

  13. Here’s a question: a serious question. How about a solar-powered train? Before you pooh-pooh the idea, it has been done before – there’s a line somewhere in Queensland that runs off solar power from PV panels on top of the train. What better than to have a train which uses the electric overhead lines where they are already installed (Auckland to Pukekohe, Te Rapa to Palmerston, Waikanae to Wellington) and then on those relatively short remaining sections, it uses battery power? The top of a train is in a perfect recharging position – facing up to the sky, little overshadowing, and all the way during the parts with the O/H lines, the panels can be charging up the system. Has anyone done the maths on that as a serious proposal?

  14. The article says

    “KiwiRail is currently undertaking a feasibility assessment on passenger rail services between Wellington and Auckland.”

    Where is the reference to this? I can’t find anything online.

      1. This is the relevant quote from the Newsroom article.
        “Already the eighteen mayors and chairs of councils on the main trunk line, along with KiwiRail, are working on a business case for a regional passenger rail service – initially as a ‘connector’ between Hamilton and Palmerston North then joining up with regional trains.”
        So not a Auckland Wellington through service but connecting with expanded Te Huia and Capital connector services. Need connecting bus from station to town centre to meet each service at Palmerston and Hamilton.

  15. Jym Clark – there is a wee bit here from the new Transport Minister but he said little about Passenger services . ;-

  16. We need to stop looking at the here and now and start looking to the future if NZ is serious about lowering its carbon emissions especially with the growth of NZ population over the next 30 years as the effects of a warming planet starts to bite.

    Currently out ‘turn up & go’ public transport systems is regionalised, commercialised, disorganised, uncoordinated and bogged down in bureaucracy not giving a good return to both rate payers and taxpayers. Our current land based ‘book & travel’ passenger transport services are not much better as both are creating less than positive passenger experiences.

    If we are serious about passenger rail, connecting the 6 main centres with the 13 provincial cities, major towns, semi rural and rural communities across 13 regions of the 16 regions in NZ that have rail connectivity, we need to reintroduce regional and inter-regional passenger and urban rail in Christchurch and lessor extent Dunedin.

    To this do this, establishment of a ‘not for profit’ sustainable environmentally friendly low carbon integrated national public transport network for ‘turn up and travel’ urban, semi rural, rural, regional and inter-regional travel whether it is by bus, train and/or ferry services across all 16 regions of NZ.

    This would require to remove regionalisation and commercialism from ‘turn up & go’ public transport services by the creation of a national public transport agency, taking over all public transport functions from NZTA, to operate as a ‘not for profit’ state entity under the Ministry of Transport, for the funding, planning, procurement and operational guidelines of urban, semi rural, rural, regional and inter-regional bus/coach, train, light rail and ferry services in association with the agency’s city, district and regional council and transport services partners.

    The National Public Transport Agency would be responsible for a ‘not for profit’ sustainable environmentally friendly integrated national public transport system for ‘turn up & go’ urban, semi rural, rural, regional and inter-regional travel whether it is by bus, train and/or ferry services across all 16 regions of NZ, with its national open ‘tap and travel’ payment/ticketing system, national information and timetable website and associated smart phone travel app that contains all ‘turn up and travel’ and ‘book and travel’ bus/coach, rail and ferry travel across all 16 regions in New Zealand.

    For the re-introduction of urban, regional and inter-regional passenger rail services, the national rail track, infrastructure, signalling and train control would need to be separated from Kiwirail and operate as an ‘open access’ not for profit rail infrastructure entity under the Ministry of Transport through the NZ Railways Corporation, as a strategic national steel highway operating on the same level as the national State Highway and Regional Road networks, allowing any rail services operator whether it is heritage, freight, freight/passenger and/or passenger only to operate across the 13 regions in New Zealand that have rail connectivity.

    Kiwirail would become a rail services operator only operating as a SOE with the government holding at least 51% shareholding in the company.

    The current commercial based ‘book & travel’ passenger services like InterCity’s national coach network and Interislander ferry services, Kiwirail would still operate the current three long distance scenic passenger train services as limited stop services, complementing the more frequent, multi stop regional and inter-regional passenger rail services.

    1. Lol. If you were actually serious about climate change you’d be advocating for far less travel overall. Not extremely expensive sightseeing opportunities.

      1. I am not sure where expensive sightseeing opportunities came from so what your point is.

        It is about connecting communities and movement of freight and people especially if traveling by bus/coach or rail, you can not help seeing some awesome scenery.

      2. Seems the whole point of this article is that passenger trains shouldn’t just be for tourism.
        Regular train travel can and should be provided, to help mitigate carbon emissions pollution in the transport sector.

  17. KiwiRail will never allocate a locomotive and a driver to a passenger train earning $200 an hour at the expense of allocating the same locomotive and driver to a freight train earning $1000 an hour. No business owner in their right mind would use their resources in a manner that lowers revenue.

    The government has ruled out making KiwiRail non-commercial in nature as it raises anti-competitive legalities, and KiwiRail themselves have advised the government that cost control would worsen in a non-commercial environment.

    KiwiRail will run such passenger services only if the revenue can be raised up to the level of a freight train. This can be achieved by either charging very high fares, or seeking a public subsidy. But should taxpayers be fleeced of a subsidy in this manner? I don’t think so.

    So, those advocates of new passenger services need to do two things:

    1) Stop wanting or expecting KiwiRail to do it. It’s not going to happen, and the purpose of a subsidy (to make up for lost freight revenue) is not appropriate use of tax dollars.

    2) Start advocating for a new government-owned dedicated passenger rail company to be established, with its own locomotives and drivers that don’t have to be hired at a high hourly rate from the freight department.

    There is certainly some scope for a small subsidy that reflects the small level of cost reductions associated with roading, but otherwise the high subsidy approach currently taken is unfeasible for expanding the passenger rail network.

    Train subsidies are GDP/population-dependent. It costs around 14 times more per household in NZ to subsidize a passenger train in NZ than it would in the UK, because the UK has 14 times more taxpayers. We just can’t have the same stuff they can.

    Te Huia is toast at the next change of government. $34,000 per day to run is not financially sustainable nor politically tenable. So there’s just no point in advocating for more services to operate under the same model.

    1. Short terminalism.

      build it (unless it’s HS2 right behind my house) and it will get used. Problem is so many kiwis are stuck in 1950s/60s dreamland.

      Yes there are more tax payers here in the UK but we subsidise a lot more railways (and roads) then NZ ever had or ever will have.

      So 14x as a stat is meaningless.

      1. I agree, but an HS2 spec line from Auckland to Wellington would probably cost as much as HS2 is costing the UK, this is not affordable for New Zealand.

      2. It’s not meaningless, it means that there are 14 times more people to pay for infrastructure. Or in other words, New Zealands ‘nationally significant’ infrastructure projects need to cost 14 times less than the UKs if we are to pay the same amount each.

        HS2 is 250km long and serves about 30 million people directly. The equivalent in NZ of 250km would just link Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga, about 1.8 million people.

        And HS2 is costing about 100 billion pounds. The equivalent spend by NZ would be 7 billion pounds, or $13b NZ. Nonetheless, that kind of money spent across the NZ rail network would be a massive improvement.

    2. Ruapehu Rails – I agree with you. Kiwirail current business model being a national rail infrastructure and rail services operator is to operate predominantly as a rail freight operator, operator of the InterIslander ferry services and their 3 scenic passenger train services with a manage decline of the national rail infrastructure to suit their operational requirements. Their intentions are are seen in the NZ Rail Plan. Establishing any new passenger rail services whether it is urban, regional or inter-regional unless they are told to do so, is not part of their plan.

      This is why, the national rail infrastructure (track, tunnels, bridges, yards. etc), signaling and train control needs to be separated from Kiwirail and operate as not for profit ‘open’ network under the NZ Railways Corporation as a strategic national asset, allowing any rail services operator whether it is heritage, freight, freight/passenger and/or passenger only to operate across the 13 regions in New Zealand that have rail connectivity, with Kiwirail operating as a SOE rail services operator only.

    3. Te Huia is here for 5 years minimum and who knows in 5 years it could be running through to the Strand and passenger numbers increased. Indeed there could be 5 or 6 Huia’s per day or more with a 3rd/4th main in..

      1. James, Te Huia is funded until 30th June 2024. It’s a three year trial, not five. The five year project is two years to plan & build and three to operate, but some media have misrepresented this as a five year trial.

  18. The concept of “Tourism Class” and “Connector Class” on the same train is not new. In times gone by this was simply called First and Second Class, and in much if the world it still is. More recently in NZ (during the earlier part of Tranz Rail era, before Messrs Fay and Richwhite did their disappearing act with the company’s money), different classes of passenger accommodation were provided on the Tranz Coastal (now the Coastal Pacific). A “Connoisseurs Club Car” was offered at a premium price for a period, and a “Backpackers’ Car” was offered at a cheap price for another period. Both of these concepts offered a level of market-choice which doesn’t exist with a single class or with a narrow range of fares. As far as I know these were successful but fell victim to the mire that privatisation turned into. It would be good to see a 2-class service reintroduced.

    1. It seems the Coastal Pacific were offering a “Scenic Plus Class” recently… I don’t know if it was some carriages only, or some services only. I think the difference was more focus on wine and fine dining, and they served you at your table… (which means you have to work harder to remember to get up and walk around, I think…) Seems such a strange thing to both developing when the food and wine were fine as it was and there’s so much else to work on.

      1. Heidi – Kiwirail has been trialing the ‘Scenic Plus’ product on both the TranzAlpine and Coastal Pacific trains over the summer period. The carriages used were the standard passenger carriages with a dedicated onboard crew. Catering was provide by LSG. I did try to travel ‘Scenic Plus’ on the TranzAlpine and Coastal Pacific trains but each time the product was cancelled.

        After speaking with Great Journeys of NZ, they are planning to re-introduce the ‘Scenic Plus’ product summer 2021/2022 on the TranzAlpine and Coastal Pacific trains using a revamp AK ‘Premium’ carriage for each train set with a planned 2 aisle 1 seating configuration. At this stage, the Northern Explorer will not have the Scenic Plus’ product but Great Journeys of NZ are thinking of adding a ‘Premium’ carriage to the Northern Explorer and they are still working on what the catering will be.

  19. Just back from a trip to snow. 1300 odd kms in climate controlled comfort. Door to door. Up the mountain down the mountain and around the mountain.
    And no one died.
    What an outstanding system the car and road is.
    No wonder it’s so popular.

    1. …what point are you trying to make?

      Passenger trains are usually air-conditioned, and offer far more comfort than cars. You can stand up, walk around, get food or drink, and devote all of your attention to passing scenery.

      Door-to-door service can be achieved with effective hub-&-spoke local PT networks, easy transfers from long-distance trains to a local service.

      Many more people die on our roads than on our railways each year.

      The car and road is so popular because rail has been chronically underinvested in, and roads over-invested in, for the past 70-odd years. Provision shapes demand, not the other way round.

    2. As someone who loves and advocates for PT and cycling, cars are actually an amazing invention in some very useful situations and I quite enjoy them at the right place at the right time. Having used public transport a lot lately when I have had to use the car I have appreciated afresh it’s advantages.

      1. I was referring to the people in my car and the car we traveled with.
        But you’re missing the point. At no other time in history has so much been so easily accessed by so many people.
        It’s quite the remarkable achievement really.
        And yes bikes and trains even buses (!) have their uses and I’ve enjoyed them and they could probably be used more but nothing comes close to the car for versatility.

        1. No joke, you should write an article about the positives of cars.
          I dont think anyone could reasonably hold the position that cars are not incredibly valuable. They have clearly been a revolution in improving quality of life, especially in areas of low density, rural etc.
          I think it would be a very reasonable thing to include in the conversation.

          Now sure for a while they were / are a hammer and every use looks like a nail, inappropriately provided for, and have huge costs unfairly associated. No one on here denies that I think. But the advantages are undeniable, and good to keep in mind.

        2. Na I’m no where near eloquent enough.
          And I’m a car enthusiast so any chance of anything remotely unbiased would be roughly 3/5ths of fuck all.

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