A business case that will be used to apply for central government funding for a start-up passenger rail service has today received backing from Waikato regional councillors.
The Waikato district and Hamilton city councils will vote to endorse the business case over the next two weeks, ahead of it going to the NZ Transport Agency Board on 14 December.
If Government funding through the NZ Transport Agency is successful, the first train would roll out of Hamilton in March 2020.
During today’s meeting, councillor Hugh Vercoe and regional transport committee chair said, “This is the first stage of a long term vision.
“Some of the townships along the corridor between Hamilton and Auckland are about to get very populated, it needs managing in some way, and transport is a critical part of that.
“The start-up service will make the single biggest difference to this region over the next 30 years,” Cr Vercoe said.
Councillor Russ Rimmington described it as a “momentous day”.
“Car ownership is not going backwards, you can’t park them in Auckland CBD, so we’ve got to look at what is being done internationally. Public transport is an important part of this.
“This start-up service is only a small step, but it’s a first step…let’s give this a crack,” Cr Rimmington said.
Councillors heard there were some risks with the start-up service. For example, the number of passengers could be under or over those measured, but projections were conservative and by year three it was forecast almost 200 people would travel on the train each day.
Councillor Jane Hennebry said there were too many risks and she was concerned about the affordability for ratepayers. Concern was also raised during the meeting about whether the 75 per cent central government funding – if granted in December – would be continued by successive governments.
Total funding needed for the project is $76.27 million over the first six years, from 2019 to 2024. Local government will contribute $9.46m of that with the remaining $66.81 million coming from central government’s National Land Transport Fund.
Of this, $49.46 million will be used to upgrade the existing Huntly station and to construct the rail station at The Base, as well as to purchase and modify the rolling stock for this service and upgrade the maintenance facility at Te Rapa.
The operational cost of running the service is estimated to be $5.82 million per annum. This will be funded through passenger fares, a NZ Transport Agency subsidy of no less than 75 per cent (if approved) and Waikato Regional Council rates.
Funding for the service has been included in year 2 of the regional council’s 2018-2028 Long Term Plan following community consultation.