Waikato swamp slows high-speed train


There’s a mas­sive wrin­kle in the plan for the Hamil­ton-Auck­land rail link: the Whanga­marino Wet­land.

And it will cost $78 mil­lion to iron out - that’s the price of shift­ing the tracks.

Trans­port ad­vo­cate Greater Auck­land re­leased its Re­gional Rapid Rail plan on Thurs­day, aim­ing to de­velop the rail net­work be­tween Auck­land, the Bay of Plenty and the King Coun­try.

Stage 2 of the plan would see two new tracks, both 14.5 kilo­me­tres long, built on farm­land west of the ex­ist­ing North Is­land Main Trunk line, cir­cum­vent­ing the go-slow sec­tion through the wet­land near Mercer.

Greater Auck­land’s Har­riet Gale said Hamil­ton-Auck­land’s dou­ble track­ing reaches a pinch point at the sin­gle-track sec­tion through the Whanga­marino.

‘‘Be­cause it is in a swamp, the ground isn’t good and the qual­ity of the ground af­fects your speed,’’ Gale said.

‘‘It’s re­ally slow. We would make it so you’d be able to ham­mer down through that sec­tion.’’

The three-stage plan has been pounced on by the Green Party’s Julie Anne Gen­ter, who threw out an elec­tion lolly with a com­mit­ment to a five-year com­muter rail trial, should the Greens be in gov­ern­ment af­ter Septem­ber.

The ‘‘proof of con­cept’’ trial, ex­pected to cost $20 mil­lion, will see trains run five times each day be­tween Hamil­ton and Auck­land tak­ing about 2 hours 15 min­utes.

A re­turn ser­vice be­tween Auck­land and Tau­ranga, run­ning once each way a day, will take 3 hours 30 min­utes.

If the trial suc­ceeds, the plan would see con­struc­tion of a rapidrail ser­vice start in 2025.

It would cost $400m and would op­er­ate higher-speed tilt­ing trains, cut­ting travel time be­tween Auck­land and Hamil­ton to 1 hour 30 min­utes.

The Whanga­marino Wet­land bot­tle­neck in North Waikato has long been held as ham­per­ing speedy travel be­tween the two cities.

The ex­ist­ing track be­tween Mercer and Te Kauwhata would con­tinue to op­er­ate for freight.

Waikato District Coun­cil Mayor Al­lan San­son said the track needs to move closer to State High­way 1, which runs par­al­lel to the main trunk line.

‘‘That’s where it needs to go and ev­ery­one re­alises that, but who is go­ing to pay for it?’’ San­son said.

‘‘If the state is go­ing to pay for it or some­body else other than my ratepay­ers, I’d be very keen to sup­port that ap­proach.’’

San­son said that even the trial is an­other two years away; road traf­fic will likely get worse in that time.

‘‘When you start to look at com­pa­nies that do move staff to Auck­land on a daily ba­sis for busi­ness, they are telling us it is any­where from two-and-a-half to three hours a day, each way, of lost pro­duc­tiv­ity.’’

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