JULY 1 will see TranzRail hand over operation of Auckland’s commuter trains to Connex under a deal announced on November 26. Connex was selected as preferred contractor ahead of rival bids from Stagecoach and Serco, and the contract is due to be signed by Auckland Regional Council this month.

Auckland’s two suburban routes totalling 79 km have faced an uncertain future for several decades, but opening of the new downtown Britomart terminus last year and the purchase of secondhand DMU cars displaced by electrification in Perth, Western Australia, has increased patronage.

During the July to October period, ARC reported a 32% year-on-year increase in journeys to 1·12 million. On November 20, ARC’s Passenger Transport Committee approved an NZ$61m package that will see a further 10 DMUs in service by 2006, and nine of the existing units upgraded mechanically. There are 38 cars in the current fleet.

Connex will operate the trains and stations, but ownership of both will remain in the public sector. The government owns the infrastructure of the national network, and TranzRail will retain access for freight.

A NZ$100m upgrade of 36 stations has been announced by Auckland Regional Transport Network, excluding two that will be closed. Doubling of the Western line to Waitakare has been approved by the government, and work starts this year between Mt Eden and Avondale.