Residents fight to keep their railway station

By Mathew Dearnaley

Ezekiel Robson.
Ezekiel Robson.

Rail supporters say transport chiefs are being short-sighted in wanting to close a station next to where hundreds of new homes are planned for South Auckland.

Auckland Transport says patronage has not grown enough at Te Mahia Station between Manurewa and Takanini to keep it open. But it is only 250m along Great South Rd from the Manukau Golf Course, where Fletcher Residential plans to build about 500 new homes from 2016.

Another station the council body intends closing is Westfield, north of Otahuhu, but it says most users are rail workers soon to move to the new $100 million electric train depot at Wiri.

It says southern rail line patronage more than trebled over eight years and services through Te Mahia increased 85 per cent, yet that station had only 12 per cent growth, to 376 daily weekday passengers.

Although consultations on changes to South Auckland's overall public transport network are continuing until August 2, Auckland Transport is citing a $1.5 million-plus upgrade cost.

But rail campaigner Ezekiel Robson and Manurewa Local Board member Colleen Brown say it is ignoring the needs of future residents and employees of a growing area, as well as loyal users.

Mr Robson, a disability advocate whose poor vision means trains are easier for him to use than combinations of buses which he and others will have to catch to reach places such as Middlemore Hospital if the station closes, said almost 1000 people had signed a petition to save it.

Te Mahia was close to pensioner flats, an intermediate school and a large pharmaceutical plant, and he wondered about Mayor Len Brown's promise of greater mobility through development around transport hubs.

The station would have had higher patronage had Auckland Transport upgraded it by July last year, as promised.

Mrs Brown said local people were "overwhelmingly shocked and aghast".

"Many have been loyal customers of the rail service through thick and thin and now, when all the flash [electric] trains are about to arrive, they get put to one side."

Retired driver Don Huggins, who bought his home next to the station 51 years ago to catch trains to work in central Auckland, said passengers were despairing over the closure plan.

The nearby Argenta pharmaceutical company is consulting staff on the issue.

"As a growing business, any reduction in public transport access to and from the area has the potential to impact our ability to attract and retain staff," said chief executive David Biland.

Greenmeadows Intermediate head Cathy Chalmers said it was safer for children from Takanini to catch trains to Te Mahia than brave busy Great South Rd to get to school, and some teachers also relied on easy rail access.

Auckland Transport spokesman Mark Hannan said there was no urgency for a final decision.

But he said not enough of the Fletcher development would be within walking distance of the station to make enough difference to patronage.

A mayoral spokesman said Mr Brown had agreed to meet residents to discuss the station's future and was encouraging people to make their voices heard on the transport network changes - which also include a reorganisation of bus routes - over the remaining three weeks of the consultation period.

Closure looms

Te Mahia Station between Manurewa and Takanini.

* It has 376 daily weekday passengers.
* It is only 250m along Great North Rd from Manukau Golf Course, where Fletcher Residential plans to build 500 new homes from 2016.

- NZ Herald

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