27 Apr 2014

Aucklanders start riding new trains

2:55 pm on 27 April 2014

Aucklanders gave the thumbs up to new electric commuter trains which are doing demonstration runs on Sunday.

Passengers disembark at Britomart after the first journey on the city's new electric trains.

Passengers disembark at Britomart after the first journey on the city's new electric trains. Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

Five thousand snapped up tickets for the first public day on trains which the Government hopes will nearly double Auckland's rail patronage.

The 57 Spanish trains cost nearly $600 million and the verdict of those leaving the first excursion trip at Britomart was unanimous. All praised, the smooth ride, the quiet, and the comfort. One travelling with children, commended the design which includes a large space for those with pushchairs and bicycles.

They are the first new commuter trains for Auckland in more than 60 years and are part of a $1.7 billion overhaul of the network which has included new stations, double-tracking and electrification.

Commuter rail was at risk of being axed nearly 25 years ago, before the purchase of second-hand trains from Perth brought a lift in patronage.

In the 2000s, the Labour government bought Auckland's rail network from TranzRail and approved a $1 billion overhaul of the network and agreed to electrify the Auckland network.

Mayor Len Brown is pushing for an early start to the next step, a downtown rail tunnel.

But Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee wants to see the new trains lift patronage from 11 million to 20 million trips a year before a start to that tunnel earlier than 2020 can be discussed.

However, Mr Brownlee said he expects the attraction of the new trains to make that kind of patronage increase possible over the next few years.

The new trains will be introduced to the network over the next 15 months, and enter normal service on Monday morning on the Onehunga line.