On the Move

Milestone reached for Te Huia passenger rail service

The first of the carriages for the new Te Huia passenger rail service from Waikato to Auckland arrived in Hamilton today (Saturday 5 September), signalling an exciting milestone for the project.

A blessing of the carriages, which have been under refurbishment since March last year, was held at KiwiRail’s Hutt workshop last month with iwi from Wellington and Waikato-Tainui.

The four carriages departed Wellington early this morning and will be received with a karakia from Te Ha o te Whenua o Kirikiriroa as they pull into the station at Frankton later today.

“This is the future of public transport and the completion of the first four carriages is a significant milestone for this project,” said Hugh Vercoe, Waikato regional councillor and chair of the rail governance working group.

The arrival of the carriages would enable staff training to get underway “so we’re ready to go when the service kicks off, which is likely to be early next year,” Cr Vercoe said.

“Waikato Regional Council has been working on this project with Hamilton city and Waikato district councils, KiwiRail, Auckland Transport and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency for some time now, with support from the Government.

“Te Huia will deliver travel time reliability for those regular commuters who would otherwise have to trek the congested State Highway 1 without any certainty on their arrival time.

“They’ll be able to use this time productively, taking advantage of travelling in a work-friendly environment with free, high quality WiFi for the complete journey. Even better, this stress-free travel will also lower the commuter’s exposure to vehicle crash risk.”

Hamilton city councillor Ewan Wilson said having a high-quality passenger rail service from Waikato to Auckland is exciting for the city.

“Given the current climate, having a connection between the two cities is critical in supporting the local and regional economy.”

The construction of the Rotokauri Station, which also includes a significant public bus hub and park and ride facility, has been delayed due to the impact of Auckland’s COVID-19 Alert Level 3 restrictions on supply; however, improvement works to Huntly Station are on schedule.

“Having the carriages completed and in the Waikato is an exciting step towards the district welcoming the train to our neck of the woods in a few months,” said Waikato district councillor Eugene Patterson.

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions, today’s train arrival is not a public event. An opportunity to board the train will be available at public open days to be held closer to the service’s launch.

A decision on the Te Huia service launch date is expected to be confirmed in the coming weeks, after news from KiwiRail a temporary speed restriction in Auckland while the track work is undertaken would add half an hour each way to the proposed journey for Te Huia travellers.

Cr Vercoe said, “We want our passengers to have the best experience possible from the outset, so it’s likely the service start date will be delayed until early next year when the track issues will have been fixed. It’s a tough call, but we agree with KiwiRail that safety is the priority while they repair and replace about 100km of rail.”

Cr Vercoe said the rail governance group, which comprises project partner representatives, was committed to ensuring the success of the service beyond its first five years.

“Stage 2 will be the exciting business case unveiled by Minister Phil Twyford last month. Electrification, relocation of the rail line, and seriously fast trains will all be looked at in the study to be funded by the Government.”

Cr Vercoe said the rail governance group has supported the next stage of service enhancements and Waikato Regional Council will look to make the appropriate financial provisions in the 2021-2031 Long Term Plan to further investigate how the service can operate north of Papakura to improve journey time and reduce transfer requirements.

“From day one we’ll be monitoring Te Huia and we’ll make improvements over time as passenger numbers increase.

“Future enhancements may include additional return services throughout the day, longer trains to provide more capacity and travelling north of Papakura.”

For more information, visit www.waikatoregion.govt.nz/rail.

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