Waipā backs return to rail 

Rail freight services still operate in Waipā but a council submission advocates more passenger rail options. Photo: Mary Anne Gill 

Waipā District Council supports passenger rail improvements and other public transport initiatives in its wide-ranging submission to what authors say is an “ambitious” Waikato plan.

The Waikato Regional Public Transport Plan is the result of months of collegial meetings between local authorities and key stakeholders, including Waipā, on the regional council’s Regional Connections committee.

While passenger rail might seem an expensive service, it is highly effective for mode change, carbon reduction and transport accessibility for longer trips, deputy mayor Liz Stolwyk will tell Waikato Regional Council next month at plan hearings.

The plan sets out the priorities and needs of public transport services and infrastructure in the Waikato over a 10-year period.

It looks to strengthen rail links between Auckland, Tauranga and Ruapehu through inter-regional partnerships as the state highway system reaches a point where further expansion is unlikely.

Passenger rail in Waipā, while popular decades ago, has long since become a rarity despite the Main Trunk Line threading its way through the district in the west.

Te Awamutu Railway Station was a popular passenger stop decades ago. 

Meanwhile a working railway line still operates between Hamilton and Tauranga, but primarily for freight. A sub line which once went from Ruakura right into Cambridge but now stops at the Fonterra dairy factory in Hautapu, has not operated for rail passengers since 1946.

While tracks between Hautapu and Cambridge were ripped up in the 1990s, the rail designation still exists on vacant land running alongside Victoria Road through to the St Andrew’s Church roundabout.

Stolwyk will tell the regional council Waipā supports the Te Huia service between Hamilton and central Auckland which represents the first step in diversifying and strengthening interregional accessibility. The council also wants to see additional stops, improved rolling stock, better connections within Auckland and improvements to the train line over Whangamarino Swamp.

Electrification of the rail network is paramount in achieving zero emissions while a Hamilton central business stop would accommodate growth and improve convenience as redevelopment continues in the city, Stolwyk will say on behalf of Waipā.

Cr Clare St Pierre, an ardent supporter of sustainable public transport options told Waipā councillors this week she supported the council’s submission to the regional council’s plan.

“I’m really pleased with the way it’s shaping up,” she said while suggesting employment should be included with education, healthcare, leisure and shopping as essential transport services.

St Pierre also recently told The News communities expect leadership from councils on carbon emissions.

She has developed a rideshare app which would work well for people in small communities like Pirongia, where she lives, and is looking for collaborators to trial it.

Work on improving Waikato public transport services would take more than five years while a rideshare app could be up and running within a year, she told The News.

The Waipā submission also supports fast, frequent and reliable public transport corridors where growth could be accommodated.

At the suggestion of Cr Roger Gordon, the Waipā submission will ask for an assurance public transport within its growing towns of Cambridge and Te Awamutu would be “adequately covered.”

That is a reference to Gordon’s long-held views that cross town travel by buses should increase, particularly in Cambridge where he lives.

Hearings will be held on August 16 in Hamilton and the regional council will adopt a final version at its last meeting in September before the local body elections.

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