Consultants say new railcar link to Hamilton will be a winner
4:00AM Wednesday May 13, 2009
By Mathew Dearnaley
Leading rail industry consultants have added weight to a campaign to run a commuter train between Hamilton and Auckland, saying economic benefits would "comfortably" exceed operating losses.
They predict $15.5 million over 15 years in economic benefits including reduced road congestion from a single daily return service, against an operating loss of $6.6 million.
That would give the service a benefit-cost ratio of 1.9, or an economic return of $1.90 for each $1 invested by the Government and ratepayers.
The analysis is in a preliminary business case prepared for the Environment Waikato regional council, which is being urged by campaigners including Hamilton City leaders to lease Silver Fern rail-cars being taken off the Pukekohe-Auckland commuter run at the end of next month.
Those submissions were among 92 received for the entire programme, which is worth about $1.2 billion.
Environment Waikato said last month that it was waiting to receive the business case before the Waikato regional transport committee could consider whether to add the rail proposal.
Although the council omitted a Hamilton-Auckland service from its draft three-year regional land transport programme of projects for which it will seek Government subsidies, it has received 40 submissions urging it not to lose the chance to obtain the rail-cars.
A team from three transport consultancies, led by Dr Murray King, has since provided a report to the regional council, citing indicative prices from KiwiRail of $1.84 million a year for one daily round trip, $2.2 million for two, and $2.65m for three.
The report suggests a modest start with one return trip from Hamilton's Frankton station, ensuring competitiveness with car journey times by limiting stops to Huntly, Papatoetoe and Newmarket before reaching Britomart.
Average one-way fares of $24 from Hamilton and $17.60 from Huntly are assumed, and the consultants predict a 75 per cent occupancy rate from 96 seats available on a single rail-car, starting at 72 passengers a day.
Fares income would initially cover 40 per cent of costs, leaving an operating loss of $1.14 million in the first year, but would improve with patronage to about 68 per cent in 2023 - reducing the deficit to $610,000.
A 60 per cent subsidy of $648,000 would be sought from the Transport Agency for the first year, which the consultants say is less than 0.3 per cent of the total amount being requested through the regional transport programme.
That would leave $456,000 to be raised from Waikato sources.
The consultants point to potential access problem through Newmarket to Britomart, saying the Auckland Regional Transport Authority does not think planned additions to its own suburban services next month and early next year will leave room for a Hamilton train at peak hours.
But they say KiwiRail's Ontrack division believes enhancements to trackwork and signals will create enough room, once they are commissioned by the middle of next year.
That may mean having to run the new service through Auckland's eastern and waterfront line into Britomart, bypassing Newmarket, until Ontrack completes the work.
The report's economic findings have been welcomed by the Campaign for Better Transport in Auckland and Hamilton City transport chairman Dave Macpherson, who said the only question now was when - not if - the service would start.
He hoped trains could also stop at a site at Te Rapa, where his council had allocated funds for a station, and believed two daily return trips could prove feasible.
KiwiRail needs an early decision on the use of its three Silver Fern rail-cars, and has indicated a preference for three daily return trips if a Waikato service is to run, a frequency which even Mr Macpherson believes might be too ambitious.