Passenger trains between Auckland and Hamilton to begin in August 2020

Passenger trains between Auckland and Hamilton will begin on August 3, the Transport Minister has announced, with the service able to carry up to 300 people per trip. 

"As the Waikato and Auckland grow closer together, this new passenger train will become a crucial connection between these two major centres," Transport Minister Phil Twyford said on Thursday. 

"Not only will it take the stress out of driving, the carriages will be comfortable and equipped with Wi-Fi, which will allow passengers to use the two-hour, twenty-minute travel time productively."

The Te Huia service will consist of two morning trains from Hamilton, with two return evening trains each weekday, and a single return train on Saturday - but no service on Sunday. 

The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) approved the business case in December 2018, and funding was approved for its construction in August last year. 

The service's implementation included operational funding of $92.37 million, made up of $79.8 million from the NZTA and $12.57 million from local authorities.

The rail service will begin in Hamilton at Frankton and stop at The Base in Rotokauri and then head onto Huntly, before reaching Papakura in Auckland. 

Transport campaigners expressed disappointment last year after finding out the service would take longer than it does to drive between Auckland and Hamilton. 

And despite the Transport Minister hailing the new service as a means to reduce traffic congestion, passengers will be expected to get on Auckland's transport network if they need to go further than Papakura. 

But Campaign For Better Transport (CBT) spokesperson Graeme Easte said it was a "positive" step to have rail links established between the two urban centres, particularly when the only similar service currently running is the InterCity bus.  

It won't be the first rail service of its kind. In 2000, a weekday Auckland-Hamilton passenger service called Waikato Connection was operated by Tranz Rail, dropping commuters as far as Auckland's Newmarket. 

But it was officially cancelled in October 2001 after Tranz Rail announced plans to exit the passenger rail business to focus more on freight, and local authorities decided against subsidising it. 

With the south Auckland and northern Waikato regions growing, the Transport Minister says it is "important that we are thinking about the big picture and develop the right infrastructure to unlock that growth". 

The Government is already investing $618 million to electrify the rail lines in south Auckland out to Pukekohe and build railway stations in Drury, and Twyford says that will "support a whole new future town there". 

He said the Ministry of Transport also has work underway to investigate options for rapid rail between Hamilton and Auckland. 

The Hamilton-Auckland service has received funding through the NZ Transport Agency for five years. Over that period the service will be assessed to see where improvements can be made. 

The Government has earmarked Tuakau, Pokeno and Te Kauwhata as future stops if the service is successful, as well as the airport, in the long-term. 

The Waikato Regional Council estimated in 2018 that by its third year of operation, more than 100,000 people would use the new service annually.

Auckland and Hamilton have a combined population of more than 1.8 million.