Inter City Rail – Needed

Duncan Garner raises a valid point


Probably owing to Radio Live’s Duncan Garner getting stuck in traffic on the Southern Motorway yesterday (100 minutes from Pukekohe to City Centre) a debate got under way on the need for inter city rail between Whangarei, Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga.

You can see a poll and some brief commentary from Garner over here: DUNCAN GARNER POLL: Should we have a Tauranga-Hamilton-Auckland fast train? (in which only 3% as of last night said No).


Now of course any inter city rail roll out would be staged by doing:

  1. Auckland to Hamilton
  2. Hamilton to Tauranga
  3. Auckland to Whangarei


To get inter city rolling out there are three sets of investment needed:

  1. Tracks
  2. Stations
  3. Rolling stock


Layton City Freight and Inter City rail was important in Skylines It will be important to the Upper North Island as well
Layton City
Freight and Inter City rail was important in Skylines
It will be important to the Upper North Island as well


Rolling stock is straight forward. A five car set with toilets and cafe pulled by either a diesel/electric (meaning it can use the wires here in Auckland) or gas turbine powered locomotive would be sufficient enough for any of the trips to and from Auckland to either of the three satellite destinations. The catch for the locomotive is that top speed needs to be 150km/h (the DL locos do 80km/h while our electric trains in Auckland do 110km/h) in order that the Auckland to Hamilton trip takes no more than 90 minutes including stops. How many of the consists we need depends of frequency but if we are running hourly each direction from 6am until midnight seven days a week to make the service desirable to traveller full-time and causal alike.

For the most part stations for where the inter city trains will stop are either there and needing upgrading or the footprint of the former station is there and can be easily rebuilt. Given the length of the train (probably the same length as a EMU 6 car set which is about 160 metres long) Auckland stations should not have an issue. Also those Auckland stations the inter city train would stop at are often full interchange stations as with buses and toilet facilities near by.

Suggested stopping pattern for Auckland to Hamilton could be:

  1. Hamilton (the old mothballed station)
  2. Te Rapa
  3. Huntly
  4. Pokeno
  5. Taukau
  6. Pukekohe
  7. Papakura
  8. Otahuhu
  9. Auckland


Tracks is where things get difficult. Our tracks are not in good state outside of urban Auckland resulting in heavy investment needed to get a decent inter city passenger service going. For example new track would need to be laid between Huntly and Mercer given the swamps and soft ground that even force the big DL loco hauling freighters to slow down from their 80km/h limit. However, given new track investment benefits both freight and passenger as result the investment would be prudent.

For Auckland further investment in the tracks would be needed as well with a third main from Pukekohe to Westfield Junction to separate the freight and even inter city services away from the normal Auckland Metro rail services. Again given a third main benefits both freight and passenger the investment would be most prudent.


Long story short with the Southern Motorway at capacity and prone to accidents like yesterday rail is the only mass transit option we have left to move people over long distances in the most efficient fashion (same goes to freight). Coupled with the emergence of satellite towns and new heavy industry hubs (as industry leaves Auckland) south of Pokeno along State Highway 1 and the rail line investment into inter city rail (along with freight rail) is going to be needed to be done over the next decade.


Given it has taken National six years to pull finger over the City Rail Link we can ill-afford to wait this long with inter city rail and better freight rail!


11 thoughts on “Inter City Rail – Needed

  1. I think a Hamilton Commuter Network is possible with the right freight/intercity rail upgrades. I mean the land to Hamilton Airport is open, the land to the Uni is open, the land to extend to Cambridge is open. They already have a single tracked underground station to work with which you could build a good building on top of, some of it is already double tracked, and electrified to. If we did it now then it would be like doing Robbies Rail (Hamilton Version) 30 years down the line Hamilton would be laughing.

    Imagine two lines 1. Te-Awamutu-Cambridge via Airport & CBD. 2. Morrinsville to Huntly via UOW, CBD & Te Rapa (The Base). If you then zoned the whole airport area industrial & all the area around the rail for development instead of Northwest & To far West Hamilton you would have lots of greenfield & brownfield TOD.

  2. Ben,
    I have just seen your other post today:

    Does it not confirm what I have said about this council determined to go the hard way and ram an un-realistic, wrong-headed plan down Aucklanders’ throats?
    This is not only politically arrogant, this is also terribly expensive.
    How much has all the preparation and promotion of this plan – and then all the arguments, fights, debates, hearings, meetings, columns.. over the past FOUR years – cost by now?
    How much, really? Is anybody keeping the tab?
    Must run into millions of dollars by now.
    Mostly ratepayers money, I would think, but personal funds and energy too.
    Is anybody accountable for all this waste of time and money?
    Will the Productivity Commission investigate this planning disaster, since obviously, it has been given the task to investigate ‘what is wrong with the NZ urban planning system’:
    Will they tell us how much this epic ‘Auckland super-city plan’ super-mistake has cost us so far?

    1. Best thing to do is file a LGOIMA to Council on how much the Unitary Plan has cost us since it first went out in 2013.

      However, what Council has put forward to the Panel as evidence does not mean the Panel will recommend it. The Panel will recommend what it sees best fits with the Regional Policy Statements – Urban Growth and Rural, and no doubt be keeping an eye on the incoming National Policy Statement – Urban Development

      Now that incoming NPS is one to watch and one I will be watching with extreme interest. Government has made its position extremely clear in its submissions, John Key’s speech two weeks ago and Nick Smith intervening on the Three Kings development.

      Council has not received a smooth ride either from the Panel. They were savaged in 013 RPS Urban Growth and a few other areas including the Pre 1944 Overlay, and the Residential Zones themselves from the Panel. I returned fire on them in 051 Centre Zones are picking apart their contradictions which Judge Kirkpatrick picked up on. That 051 debate flows into your previous comment at the Inter City Rail post.

      1. Dear Ben, your reply itself is a good example how complicate, convoluted and gargantuan this whole process has become!
        I do not want to file any LGOIMAs, and I do nor want to participate in this collective desperate and futile effort to find ‘truth, beauty and meaning’ in an ocean of jargon and bureaucracy, in any way, any more! Because my further participation only legitimise this whole madness!
        Thank for your reply, by all means. DB

  3. Hi Ben,
    It’s great you have raised this issue.
    As you know, I have been arguing the case for a ‘regional Auckland’ and a ‘linear Auckland’ for at least five years now. But the Council is not interested. Its planners have been wedded to the ‘compact city’ pipe dream and now it’s emotionally too painful for too many egos to let go.
    Let me explain the ‘regional’ and the ‘linear’ qualifications, and why they are superior to the ‘compact city’ idea.
    By ‘regional Auckland’ I mean our super-city is no more a ‘city’ in the usual sense. It is now an amorphous conurbation that is growing over a peri-urban territory of about 200 km in length. Geographers call these modern creatures ‘city-regions’, not ‘cities’ (and not even a ‘metropolis’).
    The ‘linear Auckland’ qualification is about the very long shape of the Auckland conurbation in the N-S direction. It has been in the making for the last 100 years. It is ever more pronounced and obvious and anybody who sometimes travels ‘out of town’ or has a map or an atlas can see it. Only the council’s chief strategists do not see it. Which is a real mystery – why? Wouldn’t you expect an Auckland planner to have a map of Auckland in his/her office?
    The particularly sad thing in all this is that linear cities, metropolises, conurbations, city-regions… are extremely efficient. Mainly in terms of bulk transport (mobility), but with respect to other infrastructure too.
    This presents us with yet another mystery – why would Auckland planners not pursue an urban form that is not only known to be efficient, but also one that is already there? That is, an urban form that easy to achieve – because we already are half way there.
    Why do they prefer the ‘discipline-and-punish’ approach of the Auckland Plan and, now, Unitary Plan, which is causing so much political and financial pain, when a linear, about 150 km-long, city-region Auckland makes so much more sense?
    Even all that intensification that the masters of Auckland/Unitary Plan are so passionate about, could happen mainly in that single, super-efficiently served central, N-S corridor. As opposed to the chaotic, all over the city, pattern-less, poorly services intensification zones that the PAUP currently shows in its maps.
    Why is this council determined to make our lives, and its life – difficult?
    Why aren’t we following the ‘natural (yes, natural – out narrow isthmus is a natural, geological feature) shape of Auckland, and using this fortunate shape to make planning easier and investment in macro-infrastructure more logical and less politically controversial?
    Big, Auckland-size mysteries.
    To conclude- yes, we do need a good rail link from Hamilton to Whangarei. Nothing in the whole country is more obvious.

      1. Thanks, Ben; I haven’t but I will.
        And I am so pleased to hear you are a geographer! That profession has been sorely missing from the Akl Plan process from the very beginning, I have always felt!
        (my PhD is in urban planning, but from a Geography Dept… so they would not pass my thesis until I showed I understood the basics of urban form and the processes that generate it…)

      2. As a Geographer I have been sparring with the Planners for the last five years with various results.

        Ultimately though as I see it the Planners are too rigid in thinking and lack the drive to go outside the square as a Geographer often and needs to do.

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