15 May 2024

Te Huia Auckland timetable committee includes Waikato Regional Council three years after request

12:01 pm on 15 May 2024
Te Huia train

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. Photo: RNZ / Gill Bonnett

Having first asked to be part of the Auckland Network Timetable Committee (ANTC) three years ago, Waikato Regional Council has finally been invited to join.

But it might be too late to make a difference to the Waikato to Auckland passenger train service, Te Huia.

The ANTC allocated and prioritised timetable slots for trains in the Auckland network Waikato Regional Council regional transport connections director Phil King said.

He spoke to the Waikato Future Proof Public Transport Subcommittee meeting on 3 May.

Being excluded from the committee meant that once Te Huia entered the Auckland network, the Waikato Regional Council was unable to have any influence over the movement of the train.

A report to the subcommittee cited 140 specific recorded times in 2023 of Te Huia being delayed because it had to wait for Auckland Metro services, 17 times it was made to wait for a freight service and also 17 times it was made to wait for the long-distance Northern Explorer.

"It is therefore a concern that, as a long-distance service which operates as semi-express within Auckland, Te Huia appears to be afforded very little priority compared to every other type of train. This is a matter for the Auckland Timetable Committee (as owner of the common access terms) to consider further," reads the report.

The ANTC is made up of representatives from Auckland Transport, Auckland One Rail (which operates the Auckland metro trains), and a number of KiwiRail staff representing different functions such as the network access provider, train control, freight operations and passenger operations.

A Waikato Regional Council spokesperson said that as the operator of Te Huia, an equivalent regional body to Auckland Transport, it would be appropriate that the council have a voice when decisions on allocating rail timetable slots are made.

The council first requested admission to the committee prior to the launch of Te Huia in 2021.

On 8 May 2024, RNZ asked KiwiRail why Waikato Regional Council had not been admitted to the ANTC.

On 10 May, an invitation was extended to the Waikato Regional Council to join.

However, the invitation came only days before Te Huia faces a possible funding cut from the New Zealand Transport Agency.

The NZTA board agreed to fund Te Huia for a five-year trial period but has only handed over funding through to the end of June 2024. The board will meet on Thursday to review the Te Huia Interim Performance Assessment and decide whether to fund the full trial.

A community-based petition to support the continuation of the train service has gained more than 4000 signatures in less than four days.

KiwiRail scenic journeys and commuter rail general manager Tracey Goodall said it welcomed the regional council joining the ANTC.

"KiwiRail as the operator of the service has strongly represented Te Huia as part of our role," said Goodall.

A KiwiRail spokesperson said the ANTC took all the network access requests from the various organisations and developed a master train plan, or schedule, for the network to operate smoothly on a day-to-day basis.

"It is about balancing the different requests to ensure there is enough capacity in the network and that services don't interfere with each other," the spokesperson said.

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