Railway stations in Pōkeno and Te Kauwhata are on the cards as the Waikato Regional Council seeks feedback on a bold plan to transform the public transport network across the region.
The railway stations would allow people to access the Te Huia train services to transit into Auckland.
The proposal is part of the Waikato Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP) which also suggests setting up new bus connections in rural areas like South Waikato, which currently don't have any public transport options.
The council is now seeking feedback from the community on this draft that sets out a plan for the next 30 years.
Waikato Regional Council Regional connections committee chair Angela Strange says the council was continuously looking at improving the Te Huia services between Hamilton and Auckland.
"The demand is there," Strange said.
She says the Waikato District Council (WDC) is currently working on getting a cost feasibility study underway for the rail stations and Te Huia connections to Te Kauwhata and Pōkeno because those towns are located in its district.
WDC infrastructure committee chair Eugene Patterson says the stations would be a great asset that could become part of the Auckland Transport network.
"Most people in Pōkeno transit into Auckland, so therefore Te Huia could work quite well as a connection," Patterson said.
"It's our passion to have this service available to our community."
Both towns used to have a rail connection in the mid-1870s until the 1970s and 1980s, so the RPTP would see those stations revived.
"We would have to build new stations because there is no current infrastructure available," Patterson said.
He says it is quite possible that the new stations in Te Kauwhata and Pōkeno can be built close to where the old stations were located.
"In Te Kauwhata is some old infrastructure of the platform shining through, but it would need an upgrade.
"The new stations would follow the example of Huntly which has a basic station with a park and ride facility," Patterson said.
However, he says the connections wouldn't be affordable for the district's ratepayers alone and funding from central government was essential.
Other improvements planned for Te Huia include more frequent services and reducing the overall travel times.
Waikato Regional Council chair Barry Quayle says the affordability of the entire RPTP was a key matter of debate.
"I want to reassure people that even if we get public support for these aims, any changes to investment will need to go through a long-term plan process... It's also important to keep in mind that the cost of public transport is only partly borne by the ratepayer. Fare revenue and central government investment make up the majority of the funding."
Strange says the RPTP is a "strategic and aspirational plan" that simply sets the vision for the future of public transport in the region.
"It's hugely significant, especially for rural areas which have largely been ignored... Our plan takes a more linked-up approach... We try to make it more regional-focused," Strange said.
She says the RPTP has the end goal to maximise access to opportunities such as education, jobs, housing, healthcare, commerce, recreation and social connections - for all people, no matter where they live.
To reach this goal, the regional council aims to deliver an integrated public transport system with a better-connected bus network that links up every urban area to its nearest regional centre.
For this, the council plans to set up bus services in public transport-deprived areas like South Waikato.
Also planned are more frequent public transport links between Hamilton and the larger metro towns of Huntly, Ngāruawāhia, Cambridge, Te Awamutu and Morrinsville.
"We don't propose that everyone has to connect to Hamilton. Tokoroa and Mangakino for example could connect to Taupō," Strange said.
The RPTP also proposes investments in zero-emission vehicles and infrastructure, as well as an investment in carbon offsetting, because the council aims to be net negative through offsetting more carbon emissions than it produces.
The regional council wants to reduce emissions caused by the delivery of public transport services and enable the shift from private cars to public transport. Private cars in the Waikato region are responsible for about 1,400,000 tons of emissions per year.
Strange stresses that the plan is not a done deal and encourages everyone to share their thoughts.
"Even if you're not a regular passenger on board one of our bus or train services, we encourage you to take the time to see what we're planning and share your thoughts, because they will help to shape the actions we take."
Hearings and deliberations will be in August, with the final plan set to be adopted on September 22.