Delight at Government's decision to reopen Onehunga line

By Mathew Dearnaley

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Onehunga residents are rejoicing over a Government decision to resurrect their decaying branch railway under its $600 million basic upgrade of Auckland's rail network.

New railway stations may also be in store for Parnell and Khyber Pass Rd, giving passengers easier access to Auckland Domain and the hospital, as spinoffs from a $70 million redevelopment of Newmarket Junction.

Finance Minister Michael Cullen announced yesterday that the 3.5km branch line between Penrose and Onehunga - opened in 1873 but abandoned by regular passenger trains 34 years ago - would be reinstated for around $10 million.

The Auckland Regional Transport Authority expects that a new station at a site yet to be determined, and extra trains for more than 500,000 passengers a year, will cost it another $3 million to $5 million.

Trains leaving Onehunga every half an hour from 2009 should give passengers a run of little more than 20 minutes into central Auckland, compared with bus trips sometimes three times longer.

Dr Cullen also announced $5 million towards relocating Newmarket Station's century-old building, possibly to Parnell, where the transport authority is considering a new passenger stop as a gateway to Auckland Museum.

An authority official said a station there would be the third busiest on Auckland's network, after Britomart and Newmarket, given the large numbers of university students and museum visitors likely to use it.

Government rail agency Ontrack says the disused, graffiti-marred heritage building will have to make way for two island platforms needed to squeeze extra trains through Newmarket from the west and south, including Onehunga and another branch line to be built to Manukau.

The Onehunga agreement helped Ontrack yesterday to persuade Auckland Regional Council members such as chairman Mike Lee to accept a two-platform concept rather than a less elaborate scheme.

Ontrack intends building temporary platforms at Kingdon St, but says a permanent station there would upset a proposal to move Boston Rd Station in Mt Eden to the northeastern intersection of Khyber Pass and Park Rds.

That is because it would have to lower the tracks for a future electrified rail network, leaving too steep a gradient for loaded trains to reach Park Rd.

The Government's agreement to reopen the Onehunga line follows its receipt of a 8000-signature petition backed by local MPs Mark Gosche and Phil Goff.

Campaign for Better Transport spokesman Cameron Pitches, whose organisation sponsored the petition, said he could scarcely believe the good news and he saw the Onehunga line as "a great stepping stone to the airport".

Mr Lee said most of the components for a robust rail network had now been lined up, with the notable exception of electrification, which Transport Minister Annette King has assured Aucklanders is "high on the Government's agenda".

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