Auckland, the Waikato and the Bay of Plenty are home to just under 50 per cent of all New Zealanders (as at the 2013 Census).
Combined, these areas:
- account for half of New Zealand's gross domestic product
- are likely to account for more than 70 per cent of New Zealand's population growth over the next 30 years.
Recent improvements to road transport between Auckland and Hamilton, in particular progress towards completing the Waikato Expressway, have created substantial travel time and safety improvements. However, at peak times journeys are likely to remain long and relatively unreliable, largely because of congestion on Auckland's southern motorway.
Fast and frequent passenger rail services between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga would offer a congestion-free alternative to road travel. This would also complement the upgraded road network and therefore provide a better road travel experience for those who continue to drive.
Inter-regional passenger rail has the potential to reduce travel times between Auckland and Hamilton to just over an hour, and reduce times between Tauranga and Auckland to around two hours.
Travel time improvements of this scale would be transformational for this inter-regional corridor by:
- improving economic integration between the Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions
- supporting substantial housing and employment opportunities along the rail line as a result of inter-regional commuting becoming a more attractive travel option
- creating vibrant, affordable and successful urban areas in southern Auckland and the North Waikato.
The services would also:
- provide an express rail service within Auckland, which would reduce travel times between Auckland city centre and Auckland Airport (via connection at Puhinui Station) as well as to southern growth areas
- make better use of the existing rail network
- 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.
Past proposals for improving passenger rail services have not provided sufficiently attractive travel times and frequencies to encourage use.
This is because they have been based on the use of slow trains, limited track upgrades and have not been able to reach Britomart Station because of its capacity constraints.
For rail to be successful, it will require a substantial programme of investment that includes:
- new, faster trains
- completion of the City Rail Link to enable use of Britomart Station by regional trains
- track upgrades within Auckland (including a third or fourth main line on busy sections of track) to separate fast inter-regional trains from commuter trains
- rail electrification to (and potentially beyond) Pukekohe
- track and station upgrades outside Auckland.
A high level investigation into inter-city passenger rail is under way.