New Zealand rail service: Should the Tauranga to Auckland passenger train return?
Commuters say they would jump on board a passenger rail service between Auckland and Tauranga but a city planner says the existing rail network would need a substantial upgrade to make it possible. Earlier this month, a Parliamentary select committee recommended the Government take a closer look at restarting proper inter-regional passenger rail services. The transport and infrastructure select committee’s investigation suggested scoping studies for routes including Tauranga to Auckland. It acknowledged climate change, road congestion, fuel prices, and accessibility to transport as reasons to restore regional rail. The last passenger train service between Tauranga, Hamilton, and Auckland stopped running in 2001. Reasons cited for its demise included lower patronage with more people using cars and air travel. SmartGrowth is the region’s planning and development agency, and its strategic advisor, Craig Batchelar, said community support for passenger rail, including inter-regional rail had been a topic of discussion. “The region’s rail network would need substantial upgrading before it could reasonably support passenger rail. “This includes station and track facilities, upgrades to the Kaimai Tunnel’s ventilation and fire safety systems, and passing bays either side.” He said they intended to concentrate on improving the roads for bus transport. “Continuing to invest in optimisation of the rail network for freight movement is the current focus for rail transport planning.” Regional economic agency Priority One’s chief executive, Nigel Tutt, said it was important there was a connecting line to Auckland, considering it was New Zealand’s largest city, However, at this stage, it would be too early to consider if it would largely affect businesses in Tauranga. “Freight is very much top of our minds, particularly with the port of Tauranga and some very congested roads.” To gauge potential user interest in a new service, the Bay of Plenty Times asked people taking the only currently available public transport between centres what they thought. Jean Melville was catching the bus to Auckland this week after visiting her daughter in Tauranga. She remembered the inter-regional passenger train when it was running many years ago, and said getting rid of the service was the “dumbest” thing they ever did. If the train was an option, she “absolutely would support it”. Commuter Steven Hyung lived in Auckland and sometimes travelled to Tauranga for work. He said the bus ride included many stops, and he’d be keen for something that was more direct, like trains. Margot Hetomy used the bus to travel to Auckland for the first time on Monday. She said having the option of a train would be way better. “Trains are a lot more pleasant to ride on, usually on time. They’re a lot more environmentally friendly as well.” Hetomy said a competitive price would also be important, so the trip should cost less than filling up a car, or a bus ticket. “As long as it ran every day. I can see myself coming down more often to Tauranga.” The Tauranga Public Transport Committee chairperson, Andrew von Dadelszen, said they were looking at discussing a public rail option at their next meeting in August.