The Hamilton to Auckland commuter train proposal moved one step closer to reality on Wednesday when Waikato District Council unanimously endorsed the business case seeking central government funding.
The WDC agreed that $240,000 funding set aside in the Long Term Plan to support a Tuakau rail facility would be re-allocated for the development of facilities at the Huntly rail station, such as shelter, lighting, CCTV, pedestrian access and a park-and-ride, to meet the requirements of the business case to get a start-up service operational by early 2020.
The WDC has yet to decide whether there will be a charge for the park-and-ride.
The council also agreed that a passenger rail facility at Tuakau, given the existing population and planned growth in the area, must be a priority in the medium term future, while also agreeing to lead a separate business case for a train station at Te Kauwhata in year three of the start up rail service.
Councillor Dynes Fulton said it was admirable of the staff, who had completed a robust process of the rail service in a short amount of time.
"When you look at the amount of people involved, we have crossed boundaries and crossed councils and it has been a very good process that has been completed very quickly," Mr Fulton said.
"With the small timeframe it has moved in a tremendous way."
"There is not much benefit to us in the start-up rail service, but there will be. This rail service will become part of our corridor mode of travel in the long term."
Councillor Jan Sedgwick said she was a passionate supporter of the rail service.
"This is almost like the light at the end of the tunnel and that light is a train," Ms Sedgwick said
Councillor Aksel Bech said the park and ride in Huntly would be an important part of the service, and needed to be executed perfectly.
"We haven't talked whether there would be a charge for the park and ride, and how much that would be," Mr Bech said.
"Is it safe, is it secure, is it cost effective, to make that whole proposition of parking and ride workable from the start-up?"
Total funding needed for the project is $76.27 million over the first six years, from 2019 to 2024, with $66.81 million coming from central government's National Land Transport Fund, and the balance from local government, mostly via Waikato Regional Council rating, with financial assistance from the NZ Transport Agency, and rail fare revenue.
Hamilton City Council will meet on December 6 to discuss the business case, before NZTA make their final funding decision on December 14.