First train arrives at Auckland's Britomart

9.20am - BY CATHY ARONSON

UPDATE - For the first time in over 70 years trains came into downtown Auckland City this morning.

The first train rolled into the new underground Britomart Transport Centre at 5.49am, nine minutes late but worth the wait for the 142 passengers on board.

The newly spruced up diesel train with "Britomart Express" displayed on its destination screen was welcomed by a Maori powhiri from Ngati Whatua.

After years of controversy the $211 million station is now fully operational, with Auckland City Mayor John Banks describing it as an historic milestone.

"Those of you who rode in the first train this morning are part of history in the making, and who knows one day future generations may be making a fuss of you."

Mr Banks said the city owns Britomart debt-free. He said it was an investment by the present generation of ratepayers largely for future generations of commuters.

Steven Kendall has been catching the train from Papakura to Auckland for the past seven years and wanted to be one of the first into Britomart, so he braved the cold and dark to leave Papakura at 4.45am.

"It's worth it, I've been waiting a long time for this. It's not often you get the chance to be a part of an historic moment like this."

The train from South Auckland was joined to a train from West Auckland at Newmarket and then travelled on to Britomart.

The train sped past the old demolished station at Beach Rd and slowly crept through a dimly lit 285 metre tunnel, going 12 metres underground until a burst of light revealed the large space-age train station.

Mr Kendall and fellow train commuters looked around with delight and awe.

It was an impressive sight. Stainless steel mesh and hundreds of lights covered the large concrete structure, multi-coloured lights lit up the remaining bare concrete walls. Large stainless steel spheres hung suspended from volcanic cone-shaped light shafts, designed to let natural light through the station.

"It's amazing. Am I in the right city? It's like going into another world," said Mr Kendall.

The overhead electronic timetable displays on the three platforms and train announcements over the loud-speakers were a welcomed addition compared to the confused and dated displays at the old railway station which left commuters running around blindly.

Contractors are still rushing to put the finishing touches on the transport centre, especially the entrances, before the official opening on July 25 and the free public festival day on Saturday July 26.

Temporary access to the station is by stairs via the concourse under the former Chief Post Office, lifts via the glasshouse that connects the station with the former CPO and lifts, stairs and escalators at the eastern end of the station.

Passengers can be dropped off or picked up on Galway Street. Information officers will be on site to answer any questions.

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