Coun­cil’s prom­ise for rail ‘about time’

Franklin County News - - YOUR PAPER, YOUR PLACE - EL­TON RIKIHANA SMALLMAN

The de­ci­sion to in­ves­ti­gate an in­ter-re­gional com­muter rail ser­vice has been her­alded as a sea change in re­gional coun­cil think­ing.

But the Waikato Re­gional Coun­cil has also come in for crit­i­cism.

Waikato Dis­trict Mayor Al­lan San­son said the re­sults of a de­tailed busi­ness case were in more than seven years ago, and out­go­ing Labour MP Sue Mo­roney said it’s about time re­gional coun­cil got on board.

Last week Waikato Re­gional Coun­cil’s strat­egy and pol­icy com­mit­tee voted in favour of a de­tailed busi­ness case into a pas­sen­ger rail ser­vice be­tween Hamil­ton and Auck­land.

In­dica­tive costs are set at $30,000 to $50,000. The busi­ness case will de­fine the need, rec­om­mend so­lu­tions and fund­ing op­tions.

Hamil­ton City coun­cil­lor Dave Macpher­son, who has been nudg­ing re­gional coun­cil on the is­sue at re­gional trans­port com­mit­tee meet­ings, said a com­pre­hen­sive study is a big step for­ward.

‘‘They’ve been un­en­thu­si­as­tic in the past about tak­ing on any lead­ing role in that,’’ said Macpher­son. ‘‘It is their role to man­age pub­lic trans­port op­er­a­tions in the re­gion and it’s al­ways been dif­fi­cult in the pas­sen­ger rail de­bate when they have been luke­warm.’’

In 2010, rail ad­vo­cates col­lected more than 11,000 sig­na­tures in sup­port of a rail link be­tween the two cities. It was taken to the se­lect com­mit­tee but failed. The fol­low­ing year, the Rail Work­ing Party made its case with a fea­si­bil­ity study but has been in limbo ever since.

The need for com­muter rail is even greater now, said Macpher­son, adding that the re­gional coun­cil’s po­si­tion is ‘‘clear cut’’.

‘‘It sig­nals their will­ing­ness, if all of the other ducks line up, to go ahead,’’ he said. ‘‘Sev­eral things might de­rail it and it might be out­side of any­one in the Waikato’s con­trol.’’

Mayor San­son said the re­gional coun­cil is recre­at­ing the wheel.

‘‘It has been done. I can get why they prob­a­bly think there may be some dif­fer­ences but I can’t see any­thing that has fun­da­men­tally changed in sev­e­nand-a-half years,’’ San­son said.

‘‘I’ve been bang­ing on about it for that long that we have to do some­thing, but let’s do it in baby steps.’’

Cost blowouts, the ca­pac­ity of Auck­land’s net­work to take ex­tra ser­vices, get­ting a Waikato-based train into Brit­o­mart Sta­tion and a twohour trip still ex­ist as huge bar­ri­ers, he said.

‘‘It took 2 hours 20 min­utes and it just took too long to travel that dis­tance. It’s still, prob­a­bly in a lot of cases, faster by car.’’

The first of San­son’s baby steps is to ex­tend Auck­land’s rail net­work to Mercer.

‘‘What we’ve al­ways ad­vo­cated is get­ting a train down as a far as Mercer and putting in a park and ride, al­low­ing those peo­ple to com­mute from there by train.

‘‘That is the key to get­ting a start in Waikato.’’

Mo­roney, who has ad­vo­cated for the rail con­nec­tion since 2008, said re­gional coun­cil needs to rep­re­sent the re­gion’s needs.

‘‘I re­ally hope this time they will press ahead, ir­re­spec­tive of whether they get push back from cen­tral govern­ment or not,’’ Mo­roney said.

Moves are afoot to bring Auck­land rail to Waikato.

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