Hopes of a commuter rail service between Hamilton and Auckland launching in August have been dashed, as construction is currently on hold for key aspects of the service; however, there is a silver lining for the region's rail network
With the Government asking for projects to help stimulate the economy after the lock down, the Waikato Rail governance group has put forward plans for the Waikato commuter rail network to begin ground work and launch within the next two years, a project which had no set start date.
The metro rail network would link Hamilton with other Waikato towns including Morrinsville, Te Awamutu, and Ngaruawahia
Hamilton City Councillor Dave Macpherson, who has championed the Hamilton to Auckland commuter rail service for the past three years told the Hamilton News that work has ceased on the project for the lockdown.
"Hamilton City Council general manager of development Chris Allen had a quick discussion with me on the weekend saying they had cease all work at the moment," Mr Macpherson said.
"There was a meeting on rail last weekend with Waikato Regional Council and KiwiRail and we decided that there was no way we could now start in August given the lock down, it stopped the work at Rotokauri Transport Centre , the maintenance centre at Te Rapa and some other parts."
"We were given an option of either starting early next year or late this year around October, depending on what happens with Covid-19."
Mr Macpherson said that KiwiRail was given the go ahead to start teeing up staff for the service, rather than waiting around for a firm start date.
Mr Macpherson said getting the metro rail service operating in the region was now high on the list for Waikato councils.
"That is high up on our list put forward to the Government from the Waikato councils for projects to boost the economy."
"I'd hope to see that running, at least in part within two years, it does depend on if the Government wants to put some money into it. It is not a brand new project as we already have existing infrastructure with the tracks, and we have the land for stations if we need to put stations in."
Mr Macpherson said that he had also put a proposal forward to the Passenger Rail Service Project Governance Group to look into hydrogen powered trains between Hamilton and Auckland, rather than focus on electrification.
"The initial idea was to electrify south of Pukekohe to Hamilton, but a couple of us including myself that a quicker, cheaper, and better in the long term would be hydrogen electric trains which they are operating commercially in Germany."
Hydrogen trains are equipped with fuel cells that produce electricity through a combination of hydrogen and oxygen, a process that leaves steam and water as the only emissions. Excess energy is stored in ion lithium batteries on board the train.
"We will have to refurbish the current carriages in eight years, so there the potential that when these carriages are up for refurbishment we look are bringing in hydrogen powered trains which are more climate friendly and cheaper to run.
In Germany, the Coradia iLint hydrogen trains can run for about 1000km on a single tank of hydrogen which is similar to the range of a diesel train.
Hamilton to Auckland rail service
The Hamilton to Auckland train trip would take a commuter travelling into Auckland central business district 2 hours and 20 minutes, swapping to Auckland Transport's electric rail at Papakura. Hamilton to Papakura would take 88 minutes.
A single return train would operate on a Saturday. Times are still being confirmed but departures are currently set at 6am and 6.30am from Hamilton and 5.30pm and 6.30pm from Papakura.
The service will start in Frankton, stopping at Rotokauri and Huntly before heading on to Papakura.