Will Helensville Rail Service Survive?


hellsignAny day now, there will be an official review of the Helensville - Auckland rail link which opened for a trial service in July last year. Sadly, it’s going to take forward-thinking courage from the regional transport authority to continue it. The last published figures showed an average of only 25 passengers per trip.

Hopes were much higher. The service had champions at the top - Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee and councillor Christine Rose, who, being a Waimauku resident, uses the service.

At the opening of the service exactly a year ago, Mike Lee said he had no doubt the trial would flourish and grow saying: “Wherever and whenever rail services have been provided, the public of the Auckland region have staunchly supported them.  That is why over the past five years rail patronage has gone from two million trips per year to seven million - and we intend to go on until the job is finished.”

Hear, hear but the Helensville service is not growing anywhere near the rate of the rest of the Auckland commuter services in the last 12 months which saw:

  • 6 million trips taken on Auckland’s trains - the highest number since records began in 1955
  • Patronage on the Southern Line grow 15.7%
  • Patronage on the Western line grow 16.1%

At the opening, the authority’s Mark Ford warned the enthusiastic local community it had to support the service for it to continue.  “We have built the stations, now we need you, the local people, to use it to make it a success.” The authority had spent around a million dollars building new platforms at Helensville, Waimauku and Huapai, an investment that should not last only a year. The 95-minute one-per morning inbound train service and the one outbound and inbound evening train service operates only during weekdays. These are the first commuter services through Helensville since 1980. Cost of a Helensville-Britomart ticket is $9.10.

A failure with the Helensville service will have serious consequences for the growth of commuter services beyond the main Auckland area.  It would play into the hands of Waikato critics who are arguing against the proposed Hamilton - Auckland service and make it also difficult for the campaign for a southern line service extension to Tuakau to cater for those who drive to join the train at the present furthest stop of Pukekohe.




  1. Brent C says:

    I don’t think the full benefits of the Helensville service can be known until the completion of the western line rail duplication project, which has disrupted this service.

  2. Clark says:

    Also what would help is the electrification and new signaling which will speed up the journey, and more service options. One per morning is pretty unworkable. Hats off to the 25 people who are already using it. Frankly I am suprised that that many people are so dedicated to make it to the train at such an early time.

    How many of the Helensville, Waiamuku, Huapai people catch the train all the way to Newmarket or Britomart. I know of at least one of those who gets off at Henderson.

    Would a ‘shuttle’ train service operating between the three outliying towns and Swanson be workable? This could provide the much needed increase in service.

  3. Sam F says:

    I think Clark’s got a point - with only one train running in the morning, it’s a big ask to expect people to support the trial run. They really need to get a better trial service going - either that or provide people with some kind of incentive to give the service a shot. (Maybe a discount trial-only fare from Helensville on day passes or two-ways? If the service succeeds people might come to expect the discount, but it might be worth a try anyhow.)

  4. rytc says:

    I agree, I am not sure if I would support it know that I had only one shot in the evenings to get back home. In reality, slowly increasing the frequency i.e. more than 1 each way a day, and the speed of the trip, will certainly help in increasing the passenger loading. Besides, in the long term the provision of rail will mean more people will choose to live in these areas and this will also lead to more people using the train. In Europe they estimate that when a rail link is removed and then re-instituted that it takes 3-4 years before people who used to use the train switch back from the car. Auckland needs to be making long-term commitments to such expansions of the network, however, with the loss of the fuel tax and cuts in PT funding I am not surprised the ARC and ACC are more interested in penny-pinching.


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