'Standing room only': Te Huia 'jam-packed' on first Saturday service, would-be passengers left behind

The new Hamilton-Auckland train service Te Huia has struggled to attract commuters, but it appears Waikato residents were just holding out for the weekend.

Its first Saturday service has proved so popular, people had to be left behind.

"It's absolutely jam-packed," Hamilton City Councillor Dave Macpherson told Newshub, from on board the 147-seat train.

"We're just pulling out of Huntly station - we've had to leave some people behind there, literally - it's standing room only."

An extra carriage was put on, he said, and it still wasn't enough.

"That's a good problem to have - we've got, it looks like about 230, 240 passengers on the train that only takes just under 200. It's absolutely well-exceeded our expectations."

The big numbers on Saturday are in stark contrast to what's been happening during the week. After a good first day, where two of the four trips - two there, two back - were more than half full, it's been mostly empty. Some trips have only carried 12 or 13 people, figures supplied by the Waikato Regional Council show.

Russ Rimmington, chair of the Waikato Regional Council, said they expected it to start slow. There's enough funding from the Government and local authorities to keep it running at least five years.

Currently it only runs to Papakura, in Auckland's far south. Rimmington said once they got it running into the city, patronage would rise. 

Macpherson said the packed train on Saturday shows Te Huia isn't just for weekday commuters.

"Hamilton and Waikato people have really responded to the train - it's not just a commuter service during the week. It's also a preferred way to get up to Auckland at any time, if it's being offered... 

"Once the word gets around... people will keep using it. It's looking like word has got out, well and truly." 

Macpherson hopes more carriages will be available for the next Saturday service on May 8.