A special weekend train trip between Hamilton and Auckland using the new Te Huia rail carriages will operate in January, providing an exciting one-off experience for visitors to the Waikato and Auckland regions.
The request to operate the charter service came from Hamilton city and Waikato district councillors on the Te Huia rail governance group as an opportunity to experience Te Huia train travel and promote the start-up commuter service ahead of its launch.
It is proposed the charter train will depart Frankton on the morning of Saturday, January 16, arriving at The Strand close to Auckland's CBD 2.5 hours later. It will stop at Rotokauri and Huntly, and then return at midday with Auckland passengers planning to visit the Waikato.
A Sunday service the following day will return passengers to their home destination.
The train will have a capacity of 217 seats, with passengers able to stow luggage for their overnight stay. All on-board amenities – such as WiFi, cafe, toilets, USB/charging points – will be available.
The charter service will be managed by Leisure Time Tours in close partnership with Hamilton & Waikato Tourism and Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development.
Travel packages would incorporate the rail journey, bus connections, accommodation, breakfast and tourist excursions.
The return train fare and accommodation package will start from $248 per person (twin share).
The charter was unanimously endorsed at a meeting of Waikato regional councillors in Hamilton on Thursday.
"Te Huia signals a renaissance of rail in the Waikato region," said Waikato Regional Council chairman Russ Rimmington.
"This charter is a huge opportunity for us to promote this groundbreaking service ahead of its launch, helping to generate the step change that travelling by rail is cool and economical."
"It will also help to test the viability of a longer term operational concept that could include sporting events and school holidays. I applaud the initiative of some on the working group to give this charter a go."
During discussion, Waikato regional councillors heard the operational cost of the weekend charter service will be just under $21,000 in total, which is budgeted to be fully covered by fare revenue.
Following on from the regional council meeting, Hamilton city councillor and rail governance group member Ewan Wilson said: "I'm excited this unique one-off charter service will provide bespoke tourism packages for people to explore two beautiful regions.
"I'm proud that through collaboration with our partners we have been able to create unique tourism packages which support our local hotels, tour operators and unique facilities."
Meanwhile, the date for the launch of the Te Huia commuter service is due to be decided by the governance group in November.
The date was originally pushed back from a late 2020 start due to urgent track work needed to be carried out by KiwiRail.
At this stage, it is likely to start in February once KiwiRail's track renewal and upgrade programme on its Auckland metro network has progressed enough that speed restrictions impacting Te Huia service passengers are lifted.