A Hamilton to Auckland passenger rail service could soon be a reality, with the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) approving a business case for the next steps towards a five-year trial.
Transport Minister Phil Twyford announced on Wednesday a business case had been approved, allowing for the fit-out of stock and detailed design of infrastructure.
He said it was an "exciting step" towards a five-year trial service expected to begin in March 2020.
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"State highway one, particularly north of the Bombay Hills, is often terribly clogged so this rail service is going to offer commuters from Hamilton and the Waikato, who want to get into Auckland, an affordable and convenient daily rail service which will be a genuine alternative to sitting in traffic," Mr Twyford told Newshub.
Tickets will cost around $30 each way, which the minister said was "affordable" for those "travelling in ones and twos".
The trial's total cost, including the service operated by KiwiRail, is estimated to be $78.2 million, including $68.4 million from the NZTA and $9.8 from local authorities.
Mr Twyford said the planned refurbished diesel units will have toilets on-board as well as WiFi.
"They will be great for people to use the time [while] travelling working on their laptops or doing their emails."
In November, Waikato councillors backed the business case for the service, which will start with a four-carriage train that can carry 150 passengers each way. A five-carriage train capable of carrying 200 passengers could be introduced as demand grows.
The rail service will stop in Hamilton at Frankton and the Base in Rotokauri, before heading onto Huntly, and finally to Papakura in Auckland. Future stops may include, Te Kauwhata, Pokeno and Tuakau.
A new station, including a platform and Park & Ride parking area will be created at the Rotokauri stop, while the Huntly platform will need to be upgraded.
"We know more and more people are commuting between Hamilton and Auckland, and introducing this trial service will give them a choice in how they do that.
"Better, faster, more modern rail services" may also one day be on their way, with Mr Twyford saying the rail line could end up with rapid 160km/h tilt trains allowing for 1 hour trips.
NZTA will work with councils and KiwiRail to develop a pre-implementation plan early next year.