Auckland, Waikato and the Bay of Plenty are home to more than 50 per cent of New Zealand’s population, despite accounting for just 15 per cent of the land area.
Combined, these regions:
- account for 52 per cent of New Zealand's gross domestic product
- are served by 56 per cent of the nation’s freight movements
- will likely account for more than 70 per cent of New Zealand's population growth over the next 30 years.
Recent improvements to roading networks, both north and south of Auckland - such as the completion of the Waikato Expressway, have created substantial travel time and safety improvements.
However, at peak times journeys by road are likely to remain long and relatively unreliable. This is largely because of congestion on Auckland's motorway network.
In 2021 a five-year trial of a passenger rail service between Auckland and Waikato, called Te Huia, was launched. As of 2022, the service runs two return trips on weekdays and one return trip on Saturdays.
- Auckland (Strand station)
- Hamilton (Frankton station).
There are plans to progressively enhance the service and make it permanent. This will depend on the outcome of the trial.
For rail to be successful, it will require a substantial programme of investment that includes:
- new, faster trains
- an enhanced terminal station serving central Auckland
- improved integration with local public transport, including buses and trains
- track upgrades within Auckland (including a third or fourth main line on busy sections of track) to separate faster inter-regional trains from commuter trains
- further rail electrification or consideration of bimodal train technology
- track and station upgrades outside Auckland.
Fast and frequent passenger rail services between Auckland and cities including Hamilton and Tauranga would offer an affordable, congestion-free and less carbon-intensive alternative to road travel.
A reduction in driving would also reduce the number of vehicles on the road network. This would provide more reliable journeys for those who continue to drive.
Investment in inter-regional rail services would also:
- make better use of the existing infrastructure
- improve the resilience of the transport network
- reduce congestion, transport-related emissions and deaths and injuries occurring on the road network
- reduce the conflict between freight and passenger rail services within Auckland
- support the development of major multi-modal transport hubs at locations such as Puhinui, Papakura and Pukekohe
- provide enhanced rail services and improved connectivity to destinations along the rail network, both within Auckland and in other regions.
In the long term, significant investment in rail could reduce travel times between Auckland and Hamilton to just over an hour. It could also reduce the travel time between Tauranga and Auckland to around two hours.