Imagine travelling to Auckland CBD with no traffic at 160km/h.

A blueprint for high-speed rail connecting Tauranga to Auckland, Hamilton and Rotorua - half of the country's population - has been proposed by transport advocacy group Greater Auckland.

The idea already has the backing of most local politicians.

Greater Tauranga member Heidi Hughes spent the past few weeks liaising with Greater Auckland over the rapid rail network plan and said the $1.45 billion project was an investment that needed to happen.


The daily passenger service would link Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga and be rolled out in three stages. Rail to Tauranga would be the first stage.

"What we are hoping for is that this gets picked up politically. It needs to be a national conversation," Ms Hughes said.

The Green Party has already thrown its weight behind the project with transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter saying a trial would cost $20m over five years.

She said people could be attracted by the idea of being able to work and rest while travelling.

The project consists of a three-stage plan to modernise existing regional rail links, using modern tilting trains travelling up to 160km/h on upgraded tracks.

In the first stage, existing trains such as the 96-seater Silver Fern units would run on the current network to build up passenger numbers. The second stage would be investing in high-speed tilting trains and upgrading the network.

The second and third stages would involve new higher speed tilting trains and network upgrades plus extension of the lines across Waikato and the Bay of Plenty.

The Tauranga-Auckland trip would initially take 3.5 hours but this would be reduced to 2 hours by stage three.

Ms Hughes said the rail service would also help future-proof Tauranga's infrastructure in the future by reducing congestion on the city's already clogged roads.

"There have to be more options, more than just cars to get people around. We can't just put all our eggs in one basket."

Ms Hughes said if the government was willing to spend $120m on the Bayfair to Baypark development which affected just a few hundred metres of roading, then it should have no issue investing in the proposal.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges disagreed, saying the group "seriously underestimated the cost involved on something like this".

Mr Bridges, who is also Tauranga MP, said the lines would need "significant upgrades at very significant cost" to take the trains.

"And given that these lines in the Golden Triangle are the busiest lines for freight in New Zealand, in order to have both freight and the number of services they speak of, a new line may be required."

However, Mr Bridges said he was supportive of exploring the options.

"What it requires is a business case process that works through the numbers and the details.

"The opportunity to trial some commuter rail is there but the level they are looking at, I think, will simply cost too much."

Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless said he supported the idea but there needed to be more work done to make it more than a novelty.

"It needs to become more a habit for people. That's my only reservation," he said.

"We have a lot of people in this city talking about rail travel but if you don't use it, you lose it."

A New Zealand Transport Authority spokeswoman said there were many operational matters that needed consideration and significant investments were already being made in the road and rail network.

What Tauranga candidates think

Rusty Kane, Independent Tauranga

"I'm right behind the daily regional passenger rail service linking Auckland to Tauranga and Hamilton. I like the idea of a trial stage first from Auckland to Hamilton, then if successful, creating a premium fast service that would be extended to Tauranga. In my mind, this is 30 years overdue."

Emma-Leigh Hodge, Green Party

"Out on the doorsteps, traffic woes are a big issue for people. Opening our rail networks between Tauranga, Hamilton, and Auckland to commuters is one part of the transport diversification that we know needs to happen. I absolutely back this proposal and look forward to using it often come 2019."

Clayton Mitchell, New Zealand First

"This proposed link between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga is in line with our policy and is a common sense approach to deal with congestion and population growth. Coastal shipping for some freight in conjunction with passenger rail would play a major role ... and would drastically reduce road congestion."

Stuart Pedersen, ACT

"This looks like an excellent proposal except for the subsidy demand. Stage Two, with tilting trains, is attractive compared with driving or flying to Auckland or Hamilton. The promoters should invest the extra $10m to prove the concept; a minimal cost compared to the estimated $400m for Stage Two."