The Hamilton-to-Auckland Te Huia train governance group will meet next week to decide how to keep the service moving forward following a slow take up in its first week and criticism over the speed of the service.
The $98 million train service launched last Tuesday, with an average of 36 passengers per service hopping aboard.
More than 200 passengers took the train on the launch day before patronage dropped by almost a third in the following days.
But despite challenges facing the service, including less people commuting between the two cities, Waikato Regional Council chairman Russ Rimmington believes it could still meet its target of 84 passengers each way by the end of April. The current one-way demand - which includes either the two morning or two evening services is sitting at about 73 passengers.
This is only about half of its overall target as the business case projected it would have 167 passengers each way by the end of June and the target relies on numbers growing as the service progresses.
However, there is some hope as Rimmington said KiwiRail's other inter-regional train, the Capital Connection, started with only a handful of commuters and now between 250 and 300 people travel from Palmerston North to Wellington central every weekday morning.
"So we know it will take time to build passenger numbers, as commuters test out how it works for them and word of mouth spreads about the benefits of taking the train to Auckland."
The first Saturday service will run this weekend and Rimmington expects it to be crowded.
However, the Herald understands some people within the rail governance group are less optimistic they will meet the end June target and are now trying to come up with new ways to get people on board.
On Monday the group will meet to analyse the train and the two main areas would be how the train could extend to Puhinui station in Papatoetoe within two to three months and then the Strand in Parnell.
Despite lockdowns during Covid-19 encouraging people to work remotely, he believed commuters would return as they craved face-to-face interaction and that they could also tap into other markets with a midday and weekend service.
Waikato Regional Council transport committee and rail governance working group chair Hugh Vercoe said the commuter market they had been catering for when the project started six years ago had lessened with more people working remotely.
Vercoe said they had to improve patronage and now needed to look at how the service could grow and this included catering for the developing towns between Auckland and Hamilton such as Te Kauwhata.
"Because the expressway is getting more and more clogged, a train is ideal for that service. So it forms part of a bigger strategic picture than just a commute and we have to develop it so that it can supply the potential that it is capable of."
Waka Kotahi NZTA board member Patrick Reynolds caused a stir at the weekend after tweeting Te Huia's current pattern was the "worst of both worlds", Adding it was "no way to go AKL-HAM in a day" and "blows through stations it should serve".
A trip on Te Huia currently takes about 98 minutes from Hamilton to Papakura and then there is a further 50-minute ride on a different train to get from Papakura to Britomart.