'About bloody time' Hamilton had a commuter train to Auckland - economist

It's "about bloody time" we had a commuter train from Hamilton to Auckland each day, according to a leading economist.

But the proposed 'Tron Express' might not be express enough to get Hamiltonians on board.

The service is expected to start in March next year, the five year trial costing $78.2 million - most of that from NZTA, the rest from local councils.

"It's so much more efficient to put people on trains to move them long distances," economist Shamubeel Eaqub told The AM Show on Thursday.

"We're not going to get people working in Auckland, from Hamilton, if we don't have good passenger services. People still do it, but they leave home at 4am so the quality of life is terrible."

The Tron Express - one of five potential names for the service - will take 88 minutes to get from Hamilton to Papakura. Eaqub says it needs to be about an hour.

And Hamilton should be just the start, with high-speed commuter rail into Auckland also needed from Tauranga and Whangarei - both port towns.

"All of these three places are coming together to Auckland - we're coalescing into a much larger place."

Palmerston North has had a commuter train into Wellington for nearly three decades now. Patronage fell over the past decade, and since 2018 the service has had to be subsidised to stay open.

Eaqub says Tron Express makes a lot more sense.

"It's really hard to make it work - there's just not enough people [using the Palmerston North service]… When you think about expanding services like this, it only really works out of a place like Auckland. It has to be a place that has a significant amount of jobs and lots of problems that pushes people out."

Palmerston North has only half the number of people Hamilton does, and Wellington about a quarter of Auckland.

Other names on the shortlist for the Hamilton-Auckland service include H2A, Waikato Link and Tuhono Waikato (Connecting Waikato).

The 'Tron Express' refers to a nickname for Hamilton, 'Hamiltron - city of the future' - frequently shortened to 'The Tron' - which was coined by two student radio DJs in the late 1990s.