Auckland's proposed $1 billion-plus rail electrification project could ultimately extend to Hamilton, MPs were told at a parliamentary select committee hearing yesterday.
Delivering a submission from the Auckland Regional Council on legislation including provisions for new regional road taxes for transport projects, chairman Mike Lee said his organisation was already considering whether the project should be extended to Pukekohe.
He suggested to the transport and industrial relations select committee at a hearing in Auckland it would not be too far a step from there to envisage electric trains running all the way to Hamilton.
Although an initial plan approved in principle by the Government is for electric trains to run as far as Swanson on the western railway line and to Pukekohe or Drury to the south, Mr Lee said the regional council now had Pukekohe in its gaze.
"We are now looking at Pukekohe - and that leaves only about 60km to Te Rapa," he said, indicating the possibility of continuing the project to the northern extent of the electrified main trunk line between Palmerston North and Hamilton.
He had been asked by the Labour MP for Hamilton West, Martin Gallagher, whether his council was mindful of population growth in the Waikato and the possibility of commuter trains to Auckland.
But Mr Lee expressed concern that electrification of Auckland's basic rail network may be delayed by a year because of a proposed double-consultation requirement in the legislation before the regional council could raise its half-share of a new fuel tax of up to 10c a litre.
The Land Transport Management Amendment Bill includes a requirement for regional land transport committees to hold public consultations before imposing such taxes, to match a Government share of up to 5c a litre.
That is contrary to Auckland Regional Council's belief that the Government promised in last year's Budget to make it responsible for raising tax needed to pay for up to $500 million worth of electric trains which its transport subsidiary wants to start ordering this year.
The council says it would have to wait for its regional land transport committee to complete consultations before embarking on a similar exercise of its own.
Mr Lee said that would jeopardise the council's hope of having a substantial portion of the rail network electrified in time for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
Auckland Regional Land Transport Committee chairwoman Christine Rose confirmed that body's support for giving the council responsibility for developing a regional fuel tax, but in consultation with the committee.