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.’’