The Te Huia train restarts on Monday, January 24 with a new timetable that promises to transform it from just a Hamilton to Auckland commuter service to one that offers more options to whānau and friends wanting to come to the Waikato as well as dropping travellers just a short electric bus ride from Auckland Airport.
To mark the relaunch, for the last official week of the school holidays and the first five days of service – January 24 to 28 – one child aged 18 and under will travel for free with every paying adult.
In addition, the Te Huia improvements announced today by Waikato Regional Council include free travel for senior citizens from February 1.
"Bee Card holders with their SuperGold Card concession loaded will be able to travel free on all Waikato services – not just those operating in off peak times and the weekend," the council said in a statement.
The suite of improvements confirmed for the service includes from January 24 Te Huia will stop at Puhinui, the station closest to Auckland Airport.
The Te Huia services have been suspended since Auckland went into Covid-19 lockdown last year.
When they resume next week, Te Huia will – as announced late last year by the multi-agency rail governance working group – terminate in downtown Auckland at The Strand Station on weekdays, providing passengers with direct access to central Auckland.
This also means there is no need to transfer at Papakura to the Auckland Transport electric train.
The chairman of Waikato Regional Council which manages Te Huia, Russ Rimmington, said: "I'm really excited to welcome passengers back on board, I know there are many as keen as I am to see it back on track.
"Te Huia is only eight months into a five-year establishment period. It got off to a good start, with about 15,000 boardings through to August when the service was paused due to the Auckland Covid-19 border.
"Since then we've agreed on significant improvements to deliver the services our passengers want, and we're confident we'll see on board numbers increase," he said.
Transport Minister Michael Wood said: "The Waikato and Auckland regions are among the fastest growing in New Zealand, and this means more people and cars on our roads. We know we can't build our way out of congestion. But Te Huia will support a shift to public transport and, as passenger numbers grow, will help to support growth and reduce emissions.
"Adding the new Puhinui Station as a stop is a real feather in the cap for the service and the result of a great partnership between Waikato Regional Council, KiwiRail and Auckland Transport.
"From there, it's just a short electric bus ride to the Auckland airport. It also provides access to Auckland Transport's Southern and Eastern lines, with great connectivity to Manukau city, Sylvia Park and Britomart in the city centre."
Wood said the changed timetable will "strengthen the connections between Auckland and the Waikato, boosting both economies in the process".
Rimmington agreed: "The timetable changes will transform the service. Te Huia is no longer for just the Waikato to Auckland commuter – there are two weekday services departing from Hamilton at 6.15am and 2.07pm.
"Options have also opened up for people, such as whānau and friends, wanting to come to the Waikato too, with the service departing The Strand at 9.18am and 5.15pm each weekday."
The service will continue to operate once on Saturdays.
It starts from Frankton Station, stopping at Rotokauri Transport Hub adjacent to The Base, Rahui Pookeka (Huntly), Papakura and Puhinui, terminating at The Strand Station in central Auckland.
All the details are on the Te Huia website – tehuiatrain.co.nz – or call 0800 205 305 for more information, including on fares.
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.