Imagine travelling from Rotorua to Auckland with no traffic, in comfort, and the ability to work, study, or watch a movie - all in two and half hours.

It could be a reality, again. A blueprint for high-speed rail connecting Rotorua to Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga - half of the country's population - has been proposed by a transport advocacy group Greater Auckland.

Many people don't need to imagine this scenario, as only 16 years ago this route was in service. The Geyserland Express ran from 1991 to 2001 between Rotorua and Auckland, but was cancelled due to a lack of patronage and profitability.

Greater Auckland's plan would use as much of the existing network as possible.

Advertisement

It would be rolled out in three stages. Rail to Rotorua would be the third stage, and the most costly, at an estimated $1.45 billion. It would include modern tilted trains which can travel up to 160km/h.

A map of all three stages of Greater Auckland's Regional Rapid Rail proposal.
A map of all three stages of Greater Auckland's Regional Rapid Rail proposal.

Acting mayor of Rotorua Dave Donaldson said in principle it was a strong, future-focused idea.

"When you look at comparable high growth areas around the world, public transport, including rail, is vital," Mr Donaldson said.

"We can expect more growth, and you can't expect all of that growth to be accommodated through private transport, with everyone getting in cars. The roading network just won't cope.

"We have to change the culture and the attitudes towards public transport as a mode of getting around the country."

He said there was one hiccup - the Putaruru to Rotorua rail was locked up in a lease with Rotorua Railcruising, so the validity of the plan only remained "if it can be done".

The Green Party has thrown support behind the first stage as a trial - connecting Auckland to Hamilton in two hours, 15 minutes, and onwards to Tauranga in a total of three hours, 30 minutes.

The trial would cost $20 million over five years. If successful, the Green Party would look the next stage - creating a "premium, fast service" that would cost $400m and could start in 2025.

Advertisement

The first two stages would not reach Rotorua. The Greens did not specifically endorse the full Greater Auckland blueprint which would include the Rotorua line.

Local Green Party candidate Richard Gillies said he personally would love to see rail back into Rotorua.

"I think it's great," Mr Gillies said.

"When my wife was at university she used to catch the train home from Auckland on the weekends. She said it was reliable, cheaper than owning a car, and allowed her to work while she travelled."

He said the cost was a significant investment, but not out of the question for a government considering other transport projects with similar - or greater - expenditure planned.

"The Green Party's not anti-road, but what we do have is an integrated transport strategy - making the best of our existing infrastructure to move people and stuff around in the most economically efficient and environmentally friendly way."

Tom Worsp, consumer marketing manager at Destination Rotorua said the idea was a "fantastic idea" in theory.

"It has the potential be an enabler of economic growth and tourism growth.

"From a Rotorua tourism perspective this is particularly exciting. This would enable international visitors to arrive at the Auckland International Airport and board an easy train to Rotorua, with a stop off at Hobbiton on the way should they desire."

Rotorua iSite and Visitor Centre Manager Graham Brownrigg said the network would also add another "easy and efficient" way for domestic and international tourists to reach Rotorua and its attractions.

See the full plan at greaterauckland.org.nz