Catching a train from Hamilton to Auckland Airport could be a reality in the not too distant future as Hamilton City Council looks to seize an opportunity to extend its new passenger rail service even further into Auckland.
The move would mean the planned diesel train from Hamilton to Papakura would travel several stops further north to Puhinui in Manukau where plans were announced this week for a $60 million new transport hub for south Auckland.
From Puhinui a local train would make the short trip to the airport, although it is expected buses would service the run at first.
The Hamilton to Auckland commuter rail service is to launch in mid-2020, with stops at the new Rotokauri Transport Centre beside The Base and Huntly train station before going on to Papakura.
Hamilton City Council is keen to ensure it is not left behind in further developments, this week voting to spend $25,000 developing business case for enabling the train service to extend to Puhinui – subject to NZTA also taking part in preparing the business case.
Waikato Regional Council is also being asked to contribute the same amount.
Hamilton city councillor, and chair of the growth and infrastructure committee Dave Macpherson said it would have been unthinkable to not include the Hamilton to Auckland rail, and any other regional rail, into plans for the Puhinui bus and train station.
"Puhinui, apart from being a connection to the airport, is about six stops further into to the Auckland metro network than Papakura," Mr Macpherson said.
"It will be an interchange, not just to the airport but also to the Manukau shopping centre, and when we did our study on why people would use the rail, the second most popular answer was transportation to the airport."
Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Auckland Mayor Phil Goff joined Mana Whenua and project partners on Tuesday to mark the start of construction of the Puhinui Station Interchange.
Once completed in 2021, travel times from the Puhinui Station Interchange to Auckland Airport will be 10 to 12 minutes, 23 to 25 minutes to Manukau, 29 to 31 minutes from Papakura and 47 to 49 minutes to Britomart Station.
However, the plan for Hamilton to run a passenger service to Auckland still has its opposition from Hamilton City councillor Garry Mallett.
"The benefits for this are so small that you would need a microscope to see them," Mr Mallett said when the committee discussed the proposal.
"This is not about rail versus road this is about good value for money.
"Most of us here are Hamilton City Council ratepayers, along with the people we represent, and to suggest we spend this money to get a 0.67 per cent reduction in congestion is just barmy," Mr Mallett said.
Along with funding for a business case, there has also been a $13 million cost increase to jump-start the new passenger rail service from Hamilton.
The cost increase includes $3m for a pedestrian over-bridge from the new Rotokauri transport centre to The Base, Te Rapa, after NZTA said it was a must for safety.
The council's initial plan was to install a pedestrian crossing and barrier arms at a much lower cost, but Mr Macpherson said NZTA said it was not safe enough.
Mr Macpherson, who sits on the Regional Transport Committee, told Hamilton News that while there has been an increase in spend, costs have also been diverted from fully developing the Rotokauri transport centre until a future date.
"We will know soon if we have contingency spending to spare, which we may use on the Huntly station which may have a bit of an overspend due to the amount of work that is required there," Mr Macpherson said.
"It is basically because we have never done this stuff before.
"Not even KiwiRail has done this in the last 40-50 years.
"The Huntly platform requires raising to be the correct height like the Frankton station, and improve the car parking for security, but Huntly's main benefit is they already have an overhead bridge."
Mr Macpherson said the next step in the service would be to get a rail station constructed in Te Kauwhata, before looking at electrifying the whole track.
"They are currently extending the electrification of the Auckland line to Pukekohe which is going to take about three years, what we are going to argue for is that they keep electrifying all the way to Te Rapa.
"We believe in 10 to 12 years we could see that sort of service."
A section of Tasman Rd, where the Rotokauri Transport centre is located will also be closed to all vehicles other than buses.
Mr Macpherson said despite protests from truck drivers who used the road, the detour that they will have to take will only be an increase of 30 seconds on their usual route.