Will Auckland Torpedo Hamilton Rail Plan?


OLD DAYS: Will we see a return of the glory days on the main trunk line?

Waikato’s regional council, Environment Waikato, next week discusses a final consultant’s report which puts up a strong case for a weekday Hamilton to Auckland commuter Silver Fern railcar link starting next month.
But there is an unexpected major hitch to the plan - access through Auckland. ARTA’s opposition - Newmarket too busy while work is being done and too many Auckland suburban trains using the route at peak times - means “a realistic commuter service can not be run from Hamilton.”
It would be such a heavy blow. The excellent 33-page report from Murray King & Francis Small Consultancy Ltd and Richard Paling Consultancy Ltd only needs a rubber stamp to get it across the finishing line.

The report says the business case “shows it to have real benefits in terms of economic development and relief of congestion. It will however require a subsidy which is over $1m a year in the first five years. This subsidy requires NZTA and local funding.” The plan is a 2-hour morning end evening service arriving Auckland between 8 and 830am and leaving Auckland around 5.30pm.

It warns that a decision has to be made next week as the Silver Fern railcars will be used elsewhere. “The Waikato now has an opportunity to secure a service but it needs prompt action.”

But if Newmarket station is not used, a Hamilton service will not be popular. About 30% of those wanting to use the service want to get somewhere near Newmarket.

So why couldn’t Newmarket be used? What are the ARTA concerns?

ARTA’s new timetable change this month and their next one early next year means, they say, there are no available paths for a Hamtilon train through Newmarket or even into Britomart.

Here is what the report says:

ARTA’s requirements were discussed at a meeting. Although they are in general terms sympathetic to a Hamilton service, they say there is no room for an additional train at peak times, at least not after their planned timetable changes this year and next. These changes will increase the numbers of train services run and ARTA says they could fill up further slots than those made available to them. Implicit in this is the not unreasonable view that their trains come first.
Their suggested alternative included a train arriving after the morning peak and returning before the evening peak. This would serve a different market from the one proposed and a market that is likely to offer less patronage.
Another suggestion was to extend one of their Pukekohe locomotive - hauled trains. Up to 2 additional carriages could be made available within the constraints of platform length at Britomart. These would have to be built to higher standards (e.g. with toilets). The train’s maximum speed would be lower than the Silver Fern’s and it would stop at all stations from Pukekohe to Britomart to serve ARTA’s passengers. This journey would thus be slower than 2 hours and from public feedback would be unlikely to appeal. It would also be some time before carriages could be built.
There is likely, at least for the first year, to be difficulty in using the Newmarket line and calling at Newmarket. The alternative line via Sylvia Park and Glen Innes is flatter and has fewer trains on it but would be less attractive to passengers.The option of terminating a Silver Fern train at Newmarket was not acceptable to ARTA.’

"NO VACANCIES: Newmarket "doesn't have enough room" for one  daily Hamilton train

"NO VACANCIES: Newmarket doesn

Ontrack doesn’t share the same view. It believes that once signalling and track improvements at Quay park are commissioned during the next Christmas break there will be enough capacity and flexibility in the way Britomart can be operated that all trains ARTA want to run under electrification via Newmarket could be run with room for the Hamilton train. But that finishes around mid-2010.

ARTA says Ontrack does have concerns about congestion at Otahuhu with this month’s timetable changes. These relate to the capacity of Otahuhu as a turnaround station. It’s argued that one additional train should not worsen that.

Then there is the Britomart issue.dscn1926
Currently the main station is limited to nine trains per hour via Newmarket. Trackwork improvements and the next Christmas signalling changes will allow 12 trains in and 12 out serving the two platforms on the city side of Britomart from Newmarket by running trains in both directions on each track in the Britomart tunnel. Kiwirail has no negotiated slots into Britomart apart from those for the Overlander. Its waterfront route slots go only to the station entrance. If the Britomart option fails, the waterfront option remains.
Britomart is owned by the Auckland City Council and operated by the Auckland Regional Transport Network Ltd (can anyone get their head around Auckland’s complex officialdom?). They charge for use of Britomart - $5 a minute of dwell time. If the Hamilton train uses the station for 10 minutes a day that’s $25,000 a year.

Where else would the train stop?
Only one South Auckland station could be served according to the report. Kiwirail proposes Pukekohe but this isn’t favoured by Hamilton passengers. Preferred is Papatoetoe which has good links on the suburban network and a bus connection to Auckland airport.
Its Waikato stations would be Frankton Junction and Huntly but there are numerous options long-term.Tuakau and Pokeno are seen as good opportunities but platforms and shelter would be needed and there is no money for this. Another station could be the Base shopping centre in Te Rapa and it’s believed the shopping centre may be interested in helping.
Another idea is starting the train at Te Awamutu where there is a platform and shelter. This would mean a 20 minutes earlier departure. Or Otorohanga; further east at Claudelands, Cambridge or Morrinsville.
Longer term there would be further services with the same railcar providing two or three trips a day including even more peak hour services.

So where does that leave us?

We'll have to keep driving the Hamilton-Auckland highway

We'll have to keep driving the Hamilton-Auckland highway

This should be easy but as with everything around public transport, there are too many cooks.
Temporary use of the waterfront line may be the only way to get this happening for now.
At least financially, the report gives the plan the ticks. “Total benefits over 15 years amount to $15.5m giving net benefits of $7.2m. Thus the project delivers more benefits than it costs and the economic benefit: cost ratio is 1.9 comfortably in access of 1 including stops at other stations would put the ratio over 2. There is thus a reasonable economic case for the project.”




  1. Andrew says:

    Why not reinstate the tracks past the platforms at the old Auckland rail station and have the train run over those?

    Do these commuters really need to stop in Britomart Place? Aucklanders stopped near the Vero Stadium for decades.

    Of course, you’d need to put switches in where the new rail tracks part company with the old but given the space in the Britomart Centre is at a premium until the loop to Mt Eden occurs that may be your best option. Has it been considered?


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