Auckland's first new railway line in more than 80 years - to central Manukau - is ready for passenger trains to start rolling after being officially opened yesterday.
The 2km branch off the main trunk railway at Wiri is the first stretch of new track to be built in the Auckland region since the port connection via Glen Innes opened in 1930.
But although Mayor Len Brown was cleared to drive a special train through a ceremonial ribbon into a trenched station at the end of the new line, paying passengers will have to wait for the weekend after next to travel along the route parallel to the Southwestern Motorway.
Services will start modestly, with trains running to and from the station three times hourly over peak periods, but only once an hour at other times.
Even so, Auckland Transport expects the station ultimately to become the region's second-equal busiest station with Newmarket, hosting 600,000 passenger trips a year.
A big boost will be the opening next year of a six-storey building above the railway trench as part of a new campus for the Manukau Institute of Technology, which expects to host 5000 business, computer, tourism and English language students there.
The institute will invest $80 million in the new building, to which the Auckland Council will add $13.6 million, and in return will enjoy a 99-year lease over part of Hayman Park for a "peppercorn" rental.
That is on top of about $43 million in regional funds spent on building the trenched station and associated earthworks and civil construction, and $38 million paid by KiwiRail for the branch line itself - representing an ultimate total investment of about $175 million.
Institute chief executive Peter Brother said South Aucklanders' participation in tertiary education was at only one half the national average, and a big issue was physical as well as financial access.
"In the last few years we have grown our numbers by about 40 per cent but there's still a huge unmet potential," he said at yesterday's ceremony.
"To have this transport hub is an enormous step forward, for our ability to provide education to people where and when they can come and get it."
Mr Brown contrasted the addition of the new railway to the public transport low point of 1955, when 72km of tram-lines were ripped up around Auckland.
He said the development was very much an initiative of the former Manukau City Council, which he led through its last term, and he paid tribute to his predecessor in that role, Sir Barry Curtis, for driving it to the starting line.
He looked forward not only to the opening of the region's next big rail project, the $2.86 billion central city tunnel, but also to the Waterview motorway and a busway extension to Silverdale as ingredients of an "integrated transport solution for the people of Auckland".
Acknowledging some community concern that the new line stopped short of the very centre of Manukau, he said it was strategically located to also become a hub for most of southern Auckland's bus services.
He also indicated a possibility in future decades of tunnelling under Manukau to push rail to Auckland's southeast suburbs of Botany and Pakuranga "but that is for another day for us to discuss".
KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn said masts and wires would be erected over the new line early next year, ready for the region's first electric trains to start running in 2014.
The region's rail network meanwhile faces a full Easter shutdown to enable electrification work from tomorrow until Tuesday morning, to be replaced by buses from Saturday morning.
Buses and ferries will run to Sunday timetables tomorrow, but there will be no rail replacement services on that day.
* 2km of new railway line from Wiri, ending in a 300m trench in central Manukau.
* Cost: $81 million so far; plus another $93.6m in a second stage multi-storey building development for Manukau Institute of Technology - total about $175m.
* Trains start running: Sunday, April 15.