The Waikato to Auckland Te Huia train service has transported more than 11,000 passengers in its first three months of operation - a steady growth that is in line with projections.
The Te Huia rail governance group which released the figure says the commuter rail service is proving extremely popular with families in the first week of the school holidays, with a 31 per cent increase in the number of people on Te Huia last week, compared with the daily average from Monday to Friday.
"When we started the service we knew it would take time for people to move out of the car and into the train, but in just over three months we've already exceeded 11,000 passengers," said Waikato Regional Council chairman Russ Rimmington.
"What's really exciting to see is the small but steady growth in passenger numbers, with increases of around 4 per cent a month, which is on track with projections," Rimmington said.
"We're also getting really great feedback from returning passengers. They love its comfort and the ability to work on the way up to Auckland and back again, and that our trains are reliable – in fact, on most occasions they're arriving early at their destination," he said.
The Saturday service has been especially popular, with a daily average of 300 passengers and services often at seated capacity. Rimmington welcomed news of the first service improvement.
From July 24, Saturday Te Huia trains from Hamilton will travel directly to The Strand Station in central Auckland without the need for passengers to change trains in Papakura.
"The Strand Station is within walking distance of popular central Auckland destinations such as Spark Arena, Queen St, the Downtown Ferry Terminal, University of Auckland and Parnell, to name just a few," says rail governance group chairman and Waikato regional councillor Hugh Vercoe.
The new direct Saturday service will depart Hamilton at 7.41am and arrive into The Strand at 10.10am. It will depart The Strand Station at 5.40pm on Saturday, arriving in Hamilton at 8.14pm.
The Monday to Friday Te Huia commuter train operates two northbound early morning services collecting passengers from Frankton, Rotokauri, and Huntly. Two southbound services travel in the evenings in reverse. For passengers travelling further than Papakura during the week, Auckland Transport (AT) Metro Southern Line electric trains bound for Britomart depart Papakura station every 10 minutes, stopping at other Auckland stations along the way.
"Our council has been working closely with our partners on the governance group and we've got even greater things planned for Te Huia, backed by submissions on our long-term plan," Rimmington says.
Improvements include the introduction of an interpeak weekday service to start in 2022. Work is also under way on getting the weekday services further into Auckland.
"I'm confident these improvements will grow our patronage more to make the service a real success story," he says
Te Huia launched on Tuesday, April 6. Statistics show that average daily boardings from Monday to Friday are 141, with the 6.28am service to Papakura and 4.42pm back to Hamilton proving the most popular on weekdays.
The Te Huia rail governance group comprises councillors from Waikato Regional Council, Hamilton City Council and Waikato District Council, with senior leaders from Auckland Transport, KiwiRail, Ministry of Transport and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency.
Earlier this month, Transport Minister Michael Wood released the first Rail Network Investment Programme (RNIP), which details the $1.3 billion investment to maintain and improve rail lines across the country over the next three years.
"The plan has major benefits for KiwiRail, will create and sustain jobs, and will help ensure New Zealand's exports and domestic freight get where they need to go," says KiwiRail group chief executive Greg Miller.
In the Waikato, the RNIP includes:
• Preparing a business case looking at extending double tracking on the NIMT between Amokura and Te Kauwhata and Ngaruawahia Bridge – which will remove a constraint on the network to support growing freight and passenger flows. This line is part of the Golden Triangle (Auckland – Hamilton – Tauranga), the busiest rail freight route in the country. The rest of the line between Auckland and Hamilton is already double-tracked.
• Re-sleepering 27km of track, re-railing 12km of track, 24 turnout replacements, plus civil works to improve formation and drainage, culvert and retaining wall renewals, and slope stabilisation.
• Resilience works on bridge 40 (between Waharoa and the Kaimai Tunnel).