A long-planned inland port at Hamilton's Ruakura is closer to reality with the signing of a long-term rail service partnership between developer Tainui Group Holdings and the Port of Tauranga.

The 30 year agreement provides for the port's cargo trains running between its Auckland inland MetroPort and Tauranga to service the Ruakura inland port, giving Waikato-based importers and exporters direct access to fast international shipping services calling at Tauranga.

TGH, the commercial development arm of Waikato-Tainui, has a 480 hectare estate at Ruakura, with 192ha earmarked for logistics and industrial use, including a planned 30ha inland port.

TGH chief executive Chris Joblin said the new partnership was a key step to unlocking the "golden triangle" of Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga for importers and exporters.

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Port of Tauranga trains would initially call at Ruakura four times a day, he said.

The golden triangle accounts for about half of all New Zealand freight volumes with container volumes forecast to grow 60 per cent by 2042.

Port of Tauranga's partner KiwiRail operates up to 86 trains a week between MetroPort Auckland and Tauranga, carrying up to 9000 containers.

The route has unused capacity and the additional service stop at Ruakura would reduce trucks on the road, the parties said.

The agreement provides Port of Tauranga with priority rail slots at Ruakura for an initial term of 30 years.

New entity Port Ruakura LP would provide the infrastructure at Ruakura, including a rail siding, hardstand and cargo storage areas.

Development of the long-planned Ruakura inland port is to start after completion of the adjacent Hamilton section of the Waikato Expressway, expected in late 2021.

Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said the new partnership was an example of the listed port company's partnership approach to providing supply chain infrastructure beyond its Bay of Plenty base.

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KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller said the upper North Island was a key growth region for the state-owned company and New Zealand.