Fresh look at commuter rail

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Alan Livingston

Waikato Regional Council is a party to a fresh examination of establishing a commuter rail service between Hamilton and Auckland.

The strategy and policy committee today supported the development of a strategic business case to examine the problems such a service would be designed to help address and options for solving them.

"The time to get to Auckland is longer than it's ever been in my life and it's getting longer,"said Committee chair Bob Simcock, who supported the move.

Council chair Alan Livingston also supported doing a strategic business case but added it was important to do more to get businesses and people working in Hamilton to help ensure they didn't feel the need to travel to Auckland.

The idea of a new commuter service has been around for some time. Attempts in 2011 to get a service off the ground weren't ultimately supported by the partner councils involved due to the likelihood of significant costs for ratepayers to subsidise the service.

However, Auckland Council and Auckland Transport, Waikato Regional Council, Hamilton City Council, Waikato District Council and the NZ Transport Agency have been looking again at a passenger rail service between the two cities.

A steering group has been responsible for overseeing the analysis of the previous proposal from 2011 and looking at current conditions and potential opportunities.

A new report to the agencies involved has been prepared by the Waikato Regional Council representative on the steering group.

The 2011 proposal was for a service that went to the Strand station on the eastern fringe of the inner city because no space was available at the main Britomart station.

The new report says a fresh 2017 assessment of the 2011 idea shows it's no longer feasible due to various operational constraints.

It also says there are a range of significant impediments to getting a service going into another Auckland station at this stage.

The report suggests three options: Do nothing further at this stage, prepare a detailed rail feasibility study to further explore options for a service (costing between an estimated $50,000 and $100,000 in staff time and consultancy costs), develop a strategic business case to look at the problems, benefits and options as a possible precursor to a detailed feasibility study (this would cost approximately $30,000 to $50,000).

The strategy and policy committee backed option three.

All organisations involved in the project are being asked for their views on these options by mid-June, with a view to having those views considered by the Waikato regional transport committee later this year.

Mr Livingston said the report indicated a lot of work needed to be done to look at whether a service could be viable under current conditions.

"More research needs to be undertaken to see if there is a compelling case for such a service and whether it's possible given financial and rail network constraints.

"We'll work with our partners on this project to find the best way forward.

"While there are various impediments to getting a service going quickly, there are possibilities that can be explored further by taking a strategic and long-term view of transport options.

This follows a panel discussion held by Hamilton community The Rail Opportunity Network (TRON) on Sunday April 30, where a collective of people from a range of backgrounds expressed interest in bringing the intercity train into operation. Proponents would need to bridge political gaps and acknowledge the service as part of an effective transport network between Hamilton, the Waikato and Auckland.

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