Transport Minister Michael Wood dismisses 'frenetic commentary' of Te Huia Auckland-Hamilton train

Transport Minister Michael Wood is dismissing "frenetic commentary" about the Auckland-Hamilton train service, as passenger data shows some promising signs. 

The train, known as Te Huia, launched earlier this month to some scathing reviews after the initial excitement died down and passenger numbers stagnated.  

In its first week, the train carried a total of 619 passengers - two trips from Hamilton to Auckland in the morning and two return trips in the evening, from Tuesday April 6 to Friday April 9. 

The train can seat up to 147 people per trip but has so far only reached capacity on the weekend of its second week of service, according to passenger data provided to Newshub by the Waikato Regional Council. 

During its second week of service, the train carried just nine people from Auckland to Hamilton on the evening of April 9. The records show it has not since dropped that low, but last week a return train carried just 23 passengers. 

There are some promising signs the train is picking up interest during the week. It carried a total of 843 passengers from Monday to Thursday last week - 224 more passengers than the first week of service. 

Transport Minister Michael Wood dismisses 'frenetic commentary' of Te Huia Auckland-Hamilton train
Photo credit: Waikato Regional Council

Some passengers have taken to Twitter to show how "packed" their trip was. 

"Commuting from the Waikato for the next few weeks, so took the opportunity to jump on Te Huia," one man tweeted on Monday. "This morning's second service was packed! Hardly any seats left after leaving Huntly."

Since the Te Huia service finishes at Papakura in Auckland's south, passengers wanting to get to the CBD have to transfer to the Southern Line which takes them to Britomart. 

The passenger said on Twitter the transfer was a "breeze". 

NZ Herald podcaster Frances Cook also shared her experience on Twitter, saying the train she took on Tuesday was "packed", with no seats left by Huntly. 

The Transport Minister responded to her tweet saying it was "great to hear" and the "total opposite of the frenetic commentary" he'd heard over the train's first two weeks of operations. 

"It's a good service and as more people experience it, popularity will build. We are keeping our heads about it in the early period, reviewing usage, taking feedback and consulting across the key regional partners."

Te Huia came under scrutiny earlier this month when a Waka Kotahi-NZ Transport Agency board member tweeted the train was "the worst of both worlds".

Patrick Reynolds said in a now-deleted tweet that Te Huia would fail to attract much ridership unless critical problems such as speed and coverage were solved. The trip takes 90 minutes, which is about how long it takes a motorist in a car to go all the way to Auckland itself. 

"Te Huia's current pattern is both slow + poor coverage, worst of both worlds, is one-way effectively; no way to go AKL-HAM, in a day blows through stations it should serve."

Newstalk ZB's Heather du Plessis-Allan described Te Huia as a "joke" because it's too slow. She suggested an express line from Hamilton to Auckland at 160km an hour, instead of the current 100km "slow suburban train".  

"If even Patrick Reynolds calls you out for how bad your slow train is, then it's really bad."

Te Huia train service.
Te Huia train service. Photo credit: Twitter / Michael Wood

The Rail and Maritime Transport Union has called for more coverage of the service, suggesting new stations at Pokeno, Te Kauwhata and Tuakau "right away". 

"It would be disastrous if a great, forward-thinking concept like Te Huia is undermined by a flawed rollout," said general secretary Wayne Butston. 

The cost of setting up stations at Pokeno, Te Kauwhata and Tuakau range from $10 million to $15 million, according to Crown Infrastructure Partners planning documents.

The Government has put more than $80 million into Te Huia, and local authorities another $12.2 million, to run it for five years at least.

Wood said there are a range of potential improvements the Government is exploring, including more stops along the way, different timetables, and expansion beyond Papakura into Auckland. 

"We continue to think about these in terms of what is possible and what will have most benefit in medium term."