Environment Waikato tries to save rail link

By CATHY ARONSON

The Waikato regional council may subsidise the Hamilton to Auckland commuter train to save it from extinction.

Tranz Rail plans to scrap the Waikato Connection and four other unprofitable passenger services, when it sells its public transport services to West Coast Railway of Australia.

Also on the chopping block are the Auckland to Rotorua Geyserland Express, the Auckland to Tauranga Kaimai Express, the Christchurch to Invercargill Southerner and the Wellington to Napier Bay Express.

West Coast Railway general manager Don Gibson said he would consider suggestions from the Government and the community before he scrapped the five links.

He said the Waikato Connection was the most unprofitable service and it would need to be supported for about three years.

"It's purely a commuter train and the marketing is limited. But it has only operated for a year and if the community want to support it we could maybe give it a chance."

The Waikato regional council, Environment Waikato, wants to keep the service going.

Its transport manager Bevan Clement said the council had a policy of not subsidising trains but was considering changing that.

He said the council was waiting to hear the Government's position on subsidies for the threatened services.

Transport Minister Mark Gosche has said that any subsidy would be available through Transfund and may include regional councils.

Mr Clement said that if Environment Waikato wanted to subsidise the service it would have to meet funding criteria for Transfund, which would pay 40 to 60 per cent.

He said the council wanted to reduce congestion and energy use, and the train was fast, affordable and convenient.

Between 15,000 and 20,000 cars travel on State Highway 1 each day and it is considered one of the most dangerous stretches of road in New Zealand.

The Waikato has the highest road toll in the country.

More than 400 workers travel to Auckland each day but TranzRail will not disclose how many people use the Waikato connection.

Mr Clement said the patronage was growing and the service should become profitable.

The council's recently released draft regional land transport strategy promoted the commuter train and wanted to extend it further south.

Tranz Rail spokeswoman Sue Foley said the Waikato Connection would run for at least another two months.

The service costs $21 for a full trip that leaves Hamilton at 6.15 am and arrives in Auckland at 8.11 am. It leaves Auckland at 5.35 pm and arrives in Hamilton at 7.27 pm.

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