The disuse of existing rail infrastructure in growing North West Auckland was labelled ‘a bloody shambles’ by members of the audience at the Helensville electorate ‘Trains to Huapai’ candidates’ debate today, Sunday 23 July.
Frustrations expressed by the audience about the absence of train services to the Kumeu, Waitakere and wider areas included increased costs and reduced access to key destinations, not just to get to work, but for education and shopping.
Election candidates across the board, responded by acknowledging the economic and social benefits of better public transport. Though unified in agreement on the value of public transport to the area, candidates differed in how they saw the solutions.
Chris Penk, the National Party candidate replacing John Key, said he would give rail his full attention, supporting a ‘first solution is the best’ approach. He argued that the rail network is already here, we should use it, with diesel shuttles in the first instance, and working towards electrification.
Helen Peterson representing New Zealand First, said her party’s policy is to support rail and that train services to Huapai should be part of an integrated network of buses and trains. “People prefer trains”, she reflected, and they also have clear access benefits for those on bikes or with disabilities.
The Labour Party is Kurt Taogaga, who said from his time growing up in Helensville he knows it’s a ‘public transport sinkhole’. He said he supports diesel rail services in the short term and that Labour wants to bring forward the development of a North Western Busway.
The Green Party’s Hayley Holt said her party support more buses, more frequently along a North Western busway which could eventually be a light rail system.
The Trains to Huapai campaign sought support from candidates for the proposal to run diesel shuttle services on the existing line, between Huapai and Swanson or Henderson.
Christine Rose, Chair of the Public Transport Users Association, and local resident, says despite shouldering massive growth, the area’s opportunities for the use of rail, are neglected. “Passenger rail here makes sense in so many ways – it provides capacity that’s not available within the crippled roading network, it efficiently uses existing infrastructure, and minimises ratepayer spend. It’s comfortable and quicker than bus to key destinations”.
Jon Reeves, co-ordinator of the Public Transport Users Association said the public were asking where were the Mayor, the Chair of Auckland Transport, and the Minister of Transport, “as they needed to be held accountable”. “We all want the council, the government and AT to be accountable for their failure to plan for and serve the area’s growth”.
Mrs Rose says locals are angry that Special Housing Areas of thousands of new homes have been forced upon the area. “We’ve got a railway line right there, and spare diesel trains”. “But in every transport funding announcement, whether its new battery trains for Pukekohe or a station in Drury, Huapai-Kumeu is ignored”.
Speaking in favour of the Trains to Huapai initiative, Chair of the North West District Business Association, Gary Holmes, said trains will facilitate the local tourism industry in a sustainable way, as well as providing access to the area for workers.
Local Board quote about we shouldn’t have to wait so long?
The Trains to Huapai campaigners say they elicited pledges of firm support for Trains to Huapai from the National, Labour and NZ First candidates, and a large turnout from the community on a cold winter’s day, giving them confidence in the proposal for the future.