6 May 2024

Public transport advocates push for Te Huia funding

12:51 pm on 6 May 2024
The first Te Huia commuter train from Hamilton to Auckland arrives at Papakura on Tuesday morning.

The train is made up of 18 refurbished Auckland Transport carriages and three locomotives. Photo: RNZ / Gill Bonnett

A petition has been launched to save passenger train Te Huia as the government looks to axe funding for the Hamilton to Auckland service.

More than 200 people who packed a public meeting at the weekend in support of the train, signed the petition calling for the government to continue funding it.

Te Huia was launched in April 2021 for a five-year trial at a cost of $98 million, $80m of which was spent making the train operational.

However, the government has not allocated further funding after the end of June, with Prime Minister Christopher Luxon previously calling Te Huia a "white elephant".

Last week, Waikato Regional Council released an assessment of the service showing it had delivered or was close to delivering all targets set by the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) Waka Kotahi board.

Campaign for Better Transport convenor Jodi Johnston said if the government scrapped the service now, it would save less than $13m in running costs, while at the same wasting the initial $80m set-up cost.

Campaign for Better Transport convenor Jodi Johnston.

Jodi Johnston Photo: Supplied

Because the annual operating cost was about $5m, it was not as much of a burden on taxpayers to keep the service going, Johnston said.

It was unclear what would happen to the train - made up of 18 refurbished Auckland Transport carriages and three locomotives - if it was decommissioned, he said.

"Given what's happened with most of the other ex-Auckland carriages which have recently been scrapped, there's a good chance these carriages may just end up being scrapped in the fullness of time if the service does get cancelled.

"They could be used on another service. The question is though, what level of demand would there be from other councils."

Rotokauri Transport Hub is a connection point for buses and a rail station for the Waikato to Auckland passenger rail service Te Huia.

Hamilton ratepayers had forked out $29m to build a railway station and bus interchange at Rotokauri on the outskirts of the city. Photo: Supplied / Hamilton City Council

Last year, a Palmerston North to Wellington commuter train service received six refurbished AT carriages, which were touted as a stop-gap until new hybrid-trains arrive at the end of the decade.

Johnston said Te Huia was important because it connected Hamilton, the country's fastest growing city, with Auckland.

He said not only was it a commuter train but it also provided social, sporting and educational connections between the two cities and aimed to reduce emissions, congestion and road crashes.

"We really want to see Te Huia given a fair chance to succeed. We really do wanna see this service given a fair shot and stopping this service now when it's finally getting some traction would be premature."

Saturday's meeting at the Ramada Hotel on Victoria St heard from a number of speakers outlining the reasons why Te Huia should keep going, including Labour spokesperson for transport Tangi Utikere and Hamilton city councillor Louise Hutt.

Hutt told the meeting Hamilton ratepayers had forked out $29m to build a railway station and bus interchange at Rotokauri on the outskirts of the city specifically for Te Huia.

"... you don't really want a train station that has no trains," Johnston said.

Neither Luxon nor transport Minister Simeon Brown attended the meeting. 

But Brown said no decisions had been made about the future of the Te Huia trial and that the NZTA Board would consider the funding at its 16 May meeting.

Hamilton East MP Ryan Hamilton and Hamilton West MP Tama Potaka also did not attend.

Another meeting is scheduled for this Sunday in Pookeno at the town hall, starting at 2.30pm.

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