The viability of a passenger rail service in Tauranga is being investigated.
The Bay of Plenty Regional Council is leading an investigation into both passenger and freight rail in the Bay of Plenty, including looking at the viability of a rapid passenger rail system in Tauranga.
The study followed the Labour government's 2017 election promise to create a passenger rail linking Tauranga, Auckland and Hamilton in a network dubbed the "golden triangle".
Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said the golden triangle contained half of the country's population and economy and was projected to gain another 800,000 people in the next 25 years.
Bay of Plenty Regional Council regional transport committee chairman Stuart Crosby said the investigation was overdue.
Crosby said the council would not do anything that would "impinge" on freight rail capacity as this would exacerbate existing congestion.
"It's got to be evidence-based, not emotions-based," said Crosby.
He would not comment on passenger rail but said it needed to be considered with an open mind.
Tauranga City Council transport committee chairman Rick Curach said residents had pushed for passenger rail for some time.
Curach said the limited capacity for additional train lines could be increased by double tracking sections on the line to allow trains to pass each other.
He had concerns regarding impartiality as the regional council received a significant amount of revenue from its 51 per cent shareholding in the Port of Tauranga and he believed this could make the council reluctant to support anything that compromised that revenue.
Western Bay of Plenty Council mayor Garry Webber declined to comment as he did not know enough about the proposal.
Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said the port heavily relied on freight rail.
"If we weren't able to have that cargo on rail, it would mean at least another 500,000 journeys by trucks on our roads per year."
This would add another 60,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year, he said.
He said passenger rail would need to be on separate lines as the current lines to Auckland had no space.
Cairns said the port could not operate into the future without a highly functioning rail system and called for the Hamilton-Tauranga line to be double tracked.
Sustainable Business Network Bay of Plenty regional co-ordinator Glen Crowther said a long-term approach was needed considering Tauranga's rapid growth.
He welcomed discussion about passenger rail in Tauranga, including the implications for the port, but said the case for passenger rail was stronger in Waikato.
The distance from Hamilton to Auckland was shorter while the population of people along the route was greater, he said.
Meanwhile, transport advocacy group Greater Tauranga's Heidi Hughes said a purely business-focused approach would skip important social and environmental factors.
Passenger rail would make the journey to Auckland safer, cheaper and allow flexible commuting options while easing Tauranga's reliance on cars and the subsequent environmental toll, she said.
National Party leader Simon Bridges said the investigations were the government's attempt to conceal broken election promises for passenger rail in Tauranga.
Minister for Transport Phil Twyford said the National Leader's comments made no sense.
The government had funded the Hamilton to Auckland passenger rail service which is due to start in 2020 and was investing in rail services throughout the country, including the expansion of the golden triangle.
A KiwiRail spokesperson said the golden triangle had the capacity to run a passenger train but its speed would be restricted due to the high volume of freight traffic.
The Tauranga to Hamilton line needed upgrades to allow a passenger train to operate at a speed fast enough to tempt commuters, the spokesperson said.
There were, however, limitations on the upgrades that could be made to the existing infrastructure to allow this.
KiwiRail would need to undertake detailed survey and engineering investigations to determine costs for this upgrade.
Street view: "Would you use a passenger train if there was a service from Tauranga to Auckland?"
"Yes - we go to Auckland all the time and it would be so much easier to take the kids."
Sean Bryant, 30, Pāpāmoa
"Definitely - there's so many shows that we'd go to but driving puts us off."
Margaret Dredge, 65, Pyes Pa
"Yes, if it was cheaper than flying."
Jessica Williams, 26, Edgecumbe
"Yes, we currently use the bus to visit family."
LaRee Caverhill, 40s, Whakatāne