The Waikato Connection was a short-lived express passenger train between Hamilton and Auckland in New Zealand's North Island. It consisted of a single weekday return service using diesel multiple unit railcars.
|Locale||Waikato, New Zealand|
|First service||26 June 2000|
|Last service||7 October 2001|
|Former operator(s)||Tranz Scenic|
|Distance travelled||134.75 kilometres (83.73 mi)|
|Average journey time||124 minutes|
|Service frequency||daily return|
|Rolling stock||NZR RM class (Silver Fern)|
|Track gauge||3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm)|
The service commenced as a six-month trial on 26 June 2000 and was primarily aimed at business people who regularly commuted to work in Auckland. It used Silver Fern railcars with full onboard catering and stopped at the intermediate stations of Huntly, Pukekohe, Papakura, Middlemore, and Newmarket.
Four months into the trial the service was reported to be "performing up to expectations" and was later extended beyond the trial period.
Tranz Rail announced in October 2000 that it intended to exit the passenger rail business to concentrate on its freight interests. The new owner of Tranz Scenic, two directors of West Coast Railway in Australia, had limited purchase funds, and so were only prepared to purchase the most profitable services, prompting Tranz Rail to terminate those services that were not purchased, including the Waikato Connection. It was officially cancelled on 7 October 2001 along with the Geyserland Express, the Kaimai Express, and the Bay Express. A replacement Tranz Metro service between Auckland and Pukekohe commenced the following day.
Efforts were made to save the service prior to its cancellation, including an investigation made by Environment Waikato into the possibility of subsidising it. The Council, which at the time had a policy of not subsidising rail services, decided against providing funding as $400,000 pa, which was deemed to be too expensive. An approach was also made to the Government for funding, especially in light of the subsidy that they had extended for the Southerner, but this was also declined. West Coast Railway reported that the Waikato Connection was "the most unprofitable service" but that they would be prepared to consider retaining it with community support which they expected would be needed for about three years.
At the time of its cancellation the Waikato Connection was being patronised by an average of 129 passengers per trip, most of which boarded at Pukehohe or Papakura, with only about 30 of those travelling the full distance between Hamilton and Auckland. Some considered the cancellation premature as the service was beginning to grow in popularity.
After the June 2006 announcement of the Overlander's cancellation, there were proposals to re-instate the Waikato Connection, including from Dave Macpherson, Hamilton City Council's Passenger Transport Committee chairman. The Overlander's cancellation was subsequently rescinded, eliminating the possibility of using its rolling stock on a new Waikato Connection, but other proposals have remained due to increased vehicular traffic volumes straining road capacity. These proposals include using the Silver Ferns as in the original Waikato Connection, though they were at the time under contract for suburban commuter trains between Auckland and Pukekohe. Proposals were floated in 2007 to reinstate the service. An interim proposal from the Rail Working Group in 2011 recommended further assessment of 3 options:-
- a) A Silver Fern train from Hamilton to Papakura with a transfer to the MAXX service at Papakura
- b) Extension of the MAXX service to Hamilton
- c) The composite train option (Silver Fern railcar coupled to the back of an existing MAXX service at Pukekohe).
This proposal addressed cost concerns raised by the affected local government organisations by making use of existing rolling stock and infrastructure where possible and avoiding use of the Britomart Transport Centre which, because of capacity constraints, was not available for peak-time arrivals and departures of such a service.
The proposal was dropped on a 2011 report in favour of extension only from Pukekohe to Tuakau, but that was also shelved. In 2016 the Transport Minister said, when starting work on a parallel section of Waikato Expressway costing over $2bn, "it will be some time before it makes its case economically".
A further study to establish a strategic business case was started in 2017. It identified the lack of a third line in Auckland and, consequently, a journey time of over 2hrs 20mins as obstacles. Regional Council's 2018 Long Term Plan consultation also includes a question asking whether Hamilton ratepayers will pay about $11 a year for a skeleton commuter service from Hamilton to Papakura. A paper for the same Plan proposes a Hamilton-Papakura bus link, taking 1hr 20mins , 10 minutes faster and much cheaper, at an estimated annual cost of $54,000.
ATAP, Auckland's 2018-2028 plan provides for Pukekohe electrification, a third line from Westfield to Wiri and further new electric trains, probably part of up to $205m a year proposed by government for 'Transitional rail' spending, which may include a Hamilton service.
The Sixth Labour Government promised commuter rail in 18 months to Hamilton and commuter rail to Hamilton and Tauranga. Hamilton residents want a passenger service right into Auckland (Britomart if possible). Labour MP Jamie Strange expected the service to be operating by the end of 2019.
A 2018 Waikato Regional Council plan aims to have more than 95% of peak rail trips completed in less than 2 hours and 30 minutes (compared with 50% by road) within 5 years, 2 hours within 15 years and eventually 90 minutes (90 km/h average).
Detailed planning in 2018 put the start date back to March 2020. In November 2018 the proposed service from March 2020 would take 1 hour 31 minutes from Frankton to Papakura, stopping at Rotokauri and Huntly; and transferring at Papakura to another train to take 2 hours 29 minutes total to Britomart.
In 2019 the name of Tron Express was announced and the start date further delayed to mid 2020.
The indicative start-up timetable is -
In 2019 a group made up of local councils and the Ministry of Transport issued a 'Shared Statement of Spatial Intent'. It envisages that suburban electric services may extend to Pokeno within 10 years and that, beyond that, the whole route would be electrified and faster alignments be created via the Bombay Hills, around the Whangamarino wetland and east of Huntly. It also suggests a spur to Hamilton Airport.
- Rutherford, Ross (August 2005). "Preliminary Feasibility Study into Passenger Rail Services in the Hamilton Area" (PDF). Environment Waikato and Hamilton City Council. Hamilton Alternatives to Roading Transportation Study. Transport Planning Solutions. p. 15.
- "Hamilton-Auckland train trial gets tick fro NZ Transport Agency". Stuff (Fairfax). 19 December 2018.
- Wheeler, Bob (11 October 2000). Chairman’s Address to Shareholders, 2000 Annual Meeting. Wellington: Tranz Rail Holdings.
- "Mayor disappointed Waikato Connection axed" (Press release). Hamilton City Council. 27 June 2001. Retrieved 20 October 2010.
- BROWN, Jo-MARIE (6 October 2001). "Regional rail services disappear". NZ Herald. APN Holdings NZ. Retrieved 21 October 2010.
- "Rail Working Party Interim Recommendation Report on Hamilton to Auckland Passenger Rail Service" (PDF). Environment Waikato. January 2011.
- "Regional Council to meet on Waikato rail connection" (Press release). Environment Waikato. 24 August 2001. Retrieved 21 October 2010.
- "Setback in Hamilton-Auckland commuter train dream, Greens say". Stuff (Fairfax Media). 1 July 2015.
- LEAMAN, AARON (11 May 2011). "Strand rail link 'best'". Waikato Times. Hamilton: Fairfax New Zealand. Retrieved 12 May 2011.
- "Council Decision on Hamilton to Auckland Passenger Rail Proposal" (PDF). Waikato Regional Council. 10 November 2011.
- "Tuakau rail service gets shunted". Stuff. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
- "Bridges backs commuter rail". Stuff. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
- "Regional council committee supports fresh look at commuter rail". Waikato Regional Council. Retrieved 16 May 2017.
- "Agenda for a meeting of the Infrastructure Committee - 5.9 Hamilton to Auckland Passenger Rail – Progress Update and Future Direction" (PDF). Waikato District Council. 27 June 2017.
- "Inclusion of an Interim Hamilton to Auckland Passenger Rail Service in the 2018 -2028 Long Term Plan" (PDF). Waikato Regional Council. Archived from the original (PDF) on 31 January 2018.
- "North Waikato Public Transport Network Review Implementation" (PDF). Waikato Regional Council. January 2018. Archived from the original (PDF) on 31 January 2018.
- "Agenda for a meeting of the Infrastructure Committee on Tuesday 28 November 2017" (PDF). Waikato District Council.
- "Auckland Transport Alignment Project" (PDF). Auckland Council. April 2018.
- "Government Policy Statement on Land Transport 2018/19–2027/28" (PDF). March 2018.
- "Regional Rapid Rail - Hamilton Central Station - Greater Auckland". Greater Auckland. 3 April 2018. Retrieved 6 May 2018.
- "Commuter rail from Auckland to Hamilton". Stuff (Fairfax). 21 August 2017.
- "Commuter rail from Auckland to Hamilton, Tauranga for $20 million". Stuff (Fairfax). 17 August 2017.
- "Advocates put pressure on for a better rail service". Stuff (Fairfax). 11 May 2018.
- "Labour MP Jamie Strange confident Hamilton-Auckland commuter train cash coming". Stuff (Fairfax). 18 July 2018.
- "Late Transport Papers S-P" (PDF). Waikato Regional Council. 7 August 2018.
- "Hamilton to Auckland Start-Up Passenger Rail Service" (PDF). Hamilton City Council. November 2018. p. 69.
- "Hamilton to Auckland passenger rail service takes another step closer". Stuff (Fairfax). 2 November 2018.
- "Tron Express launch date pushed back". Hamilton News. 31 May 2019. p. 4. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
- "Wellington to Auckland ** Overnight Service ** // InterCity Bus timetable IC6514". www.intercity.co.nz. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
- "Auckland to Wellington *Overnight* // InterCity Bus timetable IC6503". www.intercity.co.nz. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
- "A summary of shared spatial intent for the Hamilton- Auckland [H2A] Corridor" (PDF). Waikato District Council. February 2019.