NEW ZEALAND: The long-planned regional passenger service connecting Hamilton and Auckland will launch on April 6, Waikato Regional Council announced on February 10.

Branded as Te Huia, the trains will initially run twice a day each way between Hamilton and Papakura, where passengers will change to Auckland’s South Line suburban services.

Northbound services will depart from Hamilton’s Frankton station at 05.46 and 06.28, making intermediate stops at Rotokauri and Huntly. The return trains will leave Papakura at 16.42 and 18.25. The Hamilton – Papakura journey time will be 98 min, with the full journey to Britomart in central Auckland expected to be around 2 h 45 min including a 10 min connection.

The service is being promoted by Waikato Regional Council, along with Hamilton City Council, Waikato District Council, KiwiRail, Auckland Transport, NZ Transport Agency, and the Ministry of Transport. Trains will initially operate on weekdays and selected Saturdays, but the promoters hope to expand weekend services once track improvements have been completed on the North Island Main Trunk line.

KiwiRail’s Hutt Workshop in Wellington has refurbished 12 vehicles that had been displaced by the suburban electrification, in order to create three four-car trainsets. The air-conditioned vehicles have been modified to suit the requirements of longer-distance travellers, with free wifi, tables and at-seat USB and power points ‘so people can be productive during their commute’.

Each set will be formed of a driving generator car with 26 fixed seats and six folding seats in a bicycle storage area, a café car with 17 seats, two wheelchair spaces and an accessible toilet, and two 50-seat coaches.

‘This service will transform public transport and the way people in the Waikato travel between here and Auckland’, said Hugh Vercoe, Chair of Waikato Regional Council’s Transport Committee. ‘There’s real opportunity for us to expand the service into the future, opening it up to even more Waikato communities.’

‘Investing in rail is part of our government’s plan to help reduce congestion and emissions’, commented Transport Minister Michael Wood. KiwiRail Group Chief Executive Greg Miller added that ‘plenty of work has gone on behind the scenes, including training our new onboard crew. They have been preparing for this day and are raring to go.’