A passenger train service connecting Hamilton and Tauranga is in the works after local community initiatives joined forces to come up with a concrete plan - which even made waves in Parliament.
Making Rail Work (MRW) partnered with The Rail Opportunity Network (Tron), the group that was established to support the Auckland-Hamilton passenger rail Te Huia, to create New Zealand’s first rail co-operative.
The co-operative could act as a conduit to a public-private partnership for the delivery of inter-regional passenger rail in the Golden Triangle of Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga.
This is not just talks, says MRW, which held an all-party Parliamentary meeting in August that saw a cross-party agreement to further investigate passenger rail services and ultimately led to an official inquiry by the Government’s Transport and Infrastructure Committee.
MRW’s strategy lead Katrina Ramage says international and national experts have designed a co-operative model based on a similar approach taken to building London’s Olympic Park in 2012.
“It cuts through the ongoing discussions at regional and national levels about who would drive passenger rail in one of our fastest-growing regions and proposes a model that enables all Kiwis an opportunity to become an owner-member,” Ramage says.
“If successful, it could create a domino effect in other regions; a blueprint for regional rail. Members of the Select Committee across all parties also see the benefits, describing it as having ‘legs’ and giving economic importance to the work of the Inquiry they’re currently conducting.”
Founding member of Tron and MRW, Susan Trodden, says Tauranga in particular has a significant opportunity ahead.
“Money’s being invested into the port and freight rail, but passenger rail isn’t part of the equation. The city is already congested, and our population is only continuing to grow. Passenger rail will take cars off the road, positively impact the climate and make it easier for often overlooked groups – youth, elderly and disabled – to travel regionally,” Trodden says.
MRW is currently undertaking an in-depth analysis of the benefits of passenger rail, and believes the co-operative model is one of the most cost-effective and sensible solutions to expanding the rail network while taking into account climate change and cost of living challenges.
The group is set to deliver its analysis to Minister of Transport Michael Wood and to the Transport and Infrastructure Select Committee in February.
Trodden says: “We’re urging the Select Committee to say ‘yes’ to enabling a future with passenger rail, and for central and local Government to consider the environmental and social benefits that come from connecting our region via rail.”
The news comes hot on the heels of Taumarunui celebrating its return as a scheduled stop ‘on the main trunk line’ for the Northern Explorer at the beginning of December.