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Published: 2009-05-04 00:00:00

Environment Waikato transport staff have been directed by the Waikato Regional Transport Committee to continue their investigation of a Hamilton to Auckland commuter rail service.

It follows a report from consultants received by the committee today which said a commuter service was feasible but noted there were a number of significant hurdles, including getting train access to the Britomart terminal in Auckland.

Other potential hurdles included whether a service could be included in the Regional Land Transport Programme and National Land Transport Programme in time for a service to take advantage of an offer of the Silver Fern railcars, and whether a funding deficit of about $1 million could be made up.

Committee chairman Norm Barker, of Environment Waikato, said a careful process needed to be followed.

"The committee needs more information on the value for money of the proposed service and how it would be paid for if it was decided a service was worthwhile. We need to know whether we could get the access to Auckland stations required.

"Also, hearings on the draft Regional Land Transport Programme (RLTP), due to get underway tomorrow, will have to consider whether a service is worthwhile. A commuter train would not qualify for essential government funding unless it was included in this RLTP, as well as the National Land Transport Programme. We would need funding from the New Zealand Transport Agency as well.

"And, while KiwiRail has indicated it could provide a service starting mid-year, it says the region will have to make up its mind quickly or else the Silver Fern cars may be offered elsewhere."

Cr Barker said this time pressure underlined the need for the committee to take a measured approach.

"The committee will hopefully be in a better position to look at this issue when it gets guidance from the RLTP hearings process and EW staff report back."

The consultants’ report focuses on the option of a service leaving Hamilton in the early morning, stopping at Huntly, and then travelling on to Auckland in time for work. It would then return to Hamilton at about 5.30pm.

The gross cost of one round trip a day, Monday to Friday, would be about $1.8 million. Assuming about 72 passengers each way, expected revenue would be about $730,000 gst exclusive based on one-way fares of $24 from Hamilton and $17.60 from Huntly. If the New Zealand Transport Agency was to pay an assumed 60 per cent of the remaining costs, that would leave around $456,000 to be raised locally to fund the service. Fare revenue would be less if the train couldn’t go through Newmarket, the consultants said.