Former KiwiRail train driver David Simpson, who was at the controls of the short-lived Hamilton to Auckland commuter rail service in the early 2000s, has thrown his support behind the new service due to start this year, but warns the operators must learn from mistakes of the past.
Simpson was a rail employee for 41 years, including driving the Silver Fern train that was used on the Waikato Connection from Frankton to Auckland 20 years ago.
He says the main problem in the past was the time it took for Hamiltonians to reach Auckland.
"Back then we would get one passenger in Hamilton, a couple in Huntly, and when we got to Pukekohe we would get 40-50, and by Papakura we would be chockablock heading into Auckland," Simpson said.
The Waikato Connection also stopped at Middlemore and Newmarket, terminating at the old Auckland railway station.
"Coming back into Hamilton at night though we would just have one passenger. That one passenger worked at Middlemore Hospital, and she would reach home by 10pm. So she went back to driving a car."
The Waikato Connection ceased operating in in October 2001, just over a year after it started.
The new Hamilton to Auckland commuter rail service has yet to be officially named - although one popular suggestion is The Tron Express. It will also start in Frankton with the main Hamilton pick-up point being the Rotokauri Transport Centre being built beside The Base. It will also stop in Huntly, ending in Papakura.
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From Papakura, passengers can catch Auckland's electric train to Britomart in the city. Travel time to Papakura is expected to be 80 minutes.
Hamilton to Auckland commuter rail service nears launch
Simpson said taking 80 minutes to get to Papakura and then needing to transfer to a train into Britomart may see the same problem arise.
The cost of a one way smartcard fare from Hamilton to Papakura will be $12.20, with a trip from Hamilton into Auckland CBD costing a total of $18.50 if using an AT HOP card on AT Metro services.
Smartcard fares between Huntly and Papakura will be $7.80.
Hamilton City Councillor Dave Macpherson, who sits on the Regional Transport Committee and is a strong advocate of public transport, has said the new service will begin with an 80-minute journey to Papakura, but that this is just the start of new rail links.
The ultimate goal is to have the track eventually connect on to the Auckland Rail network and be fully electrified. The new service beginning in the middle of 2020 is to give Hamiltonians another form of transport, and to take more cars off the road.
Simpson says the idea of a metro rail between Hamilton and other Waikato towns such as Cambridge and Te Awamutu is good, but there would be stronger support for light rail.
"The Americans are motorcar-orientated, but when you see what they have done in Los Angeles with their light rail, that is what we need to follow. You have to get people out of their cars.
"Hamilton is even big enough for a light rail system but you are looking at just under a billion dollars to set one up."
Simpson said adding more lanes to highways is only a short-term solution to the traffic problems.
"If you build highways with six lanes then all you are doing is inviting more cars and it is not going to help when it comes to changing the mindset of people to use alternative transports.
Simpson, who was the convenor for the model train convention in Hamilton last weekend, was pleased with the large turnout of young and old.
"For the older folk, it was about coming down to see a form of transport that we were all used to take back in the mid 1900s.
"For the younger, they are not used to riding trains as a form of transport yet in Hamilton, but this is just a glimpse of the future for them."