A National MP has slammed the Hamilton-Auckland “token train”, stoking fears the service would be scrapped if there’s a change in Government.
Yet Hamilton East MP David Bennett maintains a National Government wouldn’t derail the service outright, despite saying rail wasn’t a “top priority” for Waikato.
A passenger train to Auckland was one of Labour’s big election pledges to Waikato in 2017.
Labour initially said the service would begin 18 months after getting elected.
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Instead, the Te Huia is due for its first journey on November 2, 2020.
The $92 million train means commuters can hop on at The Base and arrive at Papakura in 80 minutes, and to central Auckland within two hours, 20 minutes.
Bennett told Stuff the passenger service wasn’t a “worthwhile” investment.
“It would be a better investment in the region to buy all those people bus tickets to Auckland than to have built that train.
“It’s diesel, can only have 160 people on it and it will take two hours to get to Auckland.”
If elected, National wouldn’t immediately scrap the service, Bennett said, but would test it out and reassess if there weren’t many passengers.
But Labour list MP Jamie Strange said he was “concerned” about what could happen to the commuter service if National was elected.
“Given people lobbied for the train for years when National was in power and nothing was done, I would be concerned,” Strange said.
Bennett’s negativity about the service was an “example of an outdated view of transport”.
Strange said a few thousand commuters made their way between the two cities each morning, many who would work during the train journey.
Bennett said the Government should be developing an electric line for commuter rail, rather than starting a diesel train.
National has said it will extend the electric rail line from Pukekohe to Pokeno, as part of their transport policy.
“That is the sensible approach, because then you get electric trains that are linked in with the Auckland network and you can utilise our expressway to get to those trains.”
Any suggestion of an electric line to Hamilton was years away, Bennett said.
Bennett said rail wasn’t a top priority for Waikato at the moment.
“We’ve got 20,000 people that drive from Cambridge to Piarere now: that’s what all the trucks use, that’s what commuters are using.
“The rail service can only take 160 people on it, when we’ve already got a road there we can upgrade.”
Transport Minister Phil Twyford said the Government will extend electric rail to Pukekohe, helping to speed up connection times to central Auckland.
He was a “huge advocate” for a rapid rail, 60-minute service between Hamilton and Central Auckland.
“I think it would unite two really important labour markets and it would bring a huge amount of growth to the Waikato.”
An initial business case put the cost of that between several billion and more than $10 billion, Twyford said.
But rapid rail wouldn’t be a 2020 election pledge, he said.
“It would be one of the biggest infrastructure projects this country has ever undertaken, so you’ve got to do the groundwork properly, and that’s why we’re doing the next stage as a detailed business case.”
National’s Transport spokesperson Chris Bishop said rapid rail was “some years away”.
“Let’s have a look at what the business case shows.”
There needs to be population growth in the district before investment in rapid rail, he said.
“You can’t do it without the fourth main railway line in Auckland, as well as the third main rail line.
“Our policy is actually to do the third and fourth line at the same time and get on with it.”
Bishop “completely rejected” the idea National was too focused on roads.
He cited the recent promise to extend rail out to Auckland Airport and Onehunga.
“Yes, we are going to be doing roads – linking Northland and Auckland and Hamilton and Tauranga, I think you’d expect that.
“That’s a major thoroughfare for people in that part of the world.
“But in Auckland and Wellington we’ll be expanding the significant investments we’ve made into the metro rail network.”