Having earlier been endorsed by the multi-agency rail governance group, the extension of the weekday service has now received final approval to operate.
“It’s a breakthrough for passengers. It means they won’t have to connect to another service or pay using a different card to get to central Auckland. And it’s an extra hour of uninterrupted and productive time for commuters,” said rail governance group chair and Waikato regional councillor Hugh Vercoe.
Te Huia has been paused since August as a result of Auckland border restrictions but will begin running into central Auckland immediately once services resume. Trips will continue to stop at Papakura.
“Our train hasn’t been operating but we’ve not been idle. We’ve used this time to look closely at the improvements we can roll out based on feedback we’ve had from a survey of passengers,” Cr Vercoe said.
“The survey has helped us to understand what people like about the service and what changes they’d like to see. Overall, people have told us they want Te Huia to travel further into Auckland for every trip, and a review of the current timetable.
“We’ve done that and come up with a service that we believe people in the Waikato and Auckland are really going to get on board with,” he said.
The next stage of improvements will include stops at the new Puhinui Station, enabling access to Auckland Airport, before stopping at The Strand Station.
Transport Minister Michael Wood welcomed the service extension.
“We have always indicated that staged improvements would be made to the Te Huia service once it was operational, and I’m really pleased that we are able to deliver this significant enhancement within the first year.
“In mid-2021 I told partners that I wanted to see them work together to deliver this improvement and work through complexities such as scheduling. I want to thank KiwiRail, Waikato Regional Council and Auckland Transport for working together constructively to make it happen.
“Stopping at Puhinui will give passengers the options of taking a 10-minute electric bus to the airport, and stopping at The Strand gives people access to the waterfront and central Auckland. We will continue to consider further improvements to the service to encourage more people to take up this great way of travelling between Auckland and Hamilton.”
The fare for travel from Hamilton to The Strand Station will be $18 on Bee Card, which can be purchased on the train. Cash fares are also available.
On Monday the Government signalled that it will announce a date for the reopening of the Auckland border next week. Depending on timing, the service may not resume until late January next year to enable vital track work to be undertaken within Auckland during December and January.
When services do resume, there will be a new timetable. This is being finalised and will be announced when the re-start date for the service is decided.
Cr Ewan Wilson, Hamilton City Council’s representative on the rail governance working group, said the improvements are essential for the success of the Te Huia service.
“We know from feedback and the surveys we have undertaken more people would use the service if it went into central Auckland. Combine this with more sociable hours of service there’s no doubt we’ll see a significant passenger uptake, bringing huge economic benefits for both business development and tourism in both regions.”
Waikato District Mayor Alan Sanson said: “The extension of the Te Huia service into central Auckland is a real positive step in further connecting these two regions more efficiently. By providing a direct service, we reduce the need for passengers having to transit from one train system to another in Papakura, making it an attractive transport option.”
KiwiRail, which operates the service on behalf of Waikato councils, welcomed this next step in the continuing development of the Te Huia service.
“Securing the timetable is a key building block for taking Te Huia to The Strand Station on weekdays, and we are continuing work with the councils on other necessary improvements,” KiwiRail Chief Operating Officer Capital Projects and Asset Development David Gordon said.
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency Director Regional Relationships, David Speirs, also welcomed the improvement. “Waka Kotahi is excited for this next step in providing people traveling between the Waikato and Auckland with greater choice in their transport options. We continue to work closely with Waikato Regional Council, Hamilton City Council, Waikato District Council and KiwiRail to support the continued growth and improvement of this important service.”