A passenger rail service between Hamilton and Auckland could be up and running by March 2020, after the NZ Transport Agency approved a business case for the startup trial.
The business case allows for the fit-out of rolling stock and the detailed design of infrastructure. The total cost of the five-year trial, including the service operated by KiwiRail, is estimated at $78.2 million, including $68.4 million from the NZ Transport Agency and $9.8 million from local authorities.
Hamilton Labour list MP Jamie Strange told Tim Dower there is a huge amount of demand for the service.
"There's certainly lots of demand there. I speak to people every day who commute to Auckland. It's hard to know exactly how many people because we haven't got the specific evidence but there seem,s to be around 3000."
"People are constantly frustrated...they can't be productive when they're in a car and they spend a lot of time sitting on the Auckland Motorway, so it's about a diverse transport system."
The initial trial would be a four carriage train capable of carrying 150 people between Hamilton and Auckland twice every morning and night.
However, Strange said that service could easily be upgraded to meet demand.
"You can add an extra carriage and take it up to 200. It's basically about getting something going, seeing what the demand is and if the demand is there, which I'm confident it will be particularly from the business community, then we can build on it."
Strange acknowledged it is a subsidiary but says he "doesn't buy into" the claim that it will cost the taxpayer $170 per trip.
"A lot of it is for infrastructure so that's spread over a long period of time, whether that's upgrading the stations or brand news stations."
"There is a subsidy here but this is really about a culture change. For many years we have been obsessed with cars, so if we all have to pay a small subsidy in order to bring about a culture change, then I think that's a good thing because I think we need more people on public transport."
He defended the cost saying, "the alternative is for us to keep doing what we are doing and clogged up motorway's in Auckland and people sutting in cars not able to be productive".
"One of the key things about being on a train is you can work, you can open your laptop and doing work and that adds positively to our economy."