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Auckland Regional Council leaders are defending their allocation of scarce transport funds to a trial Helensville rail service, even though the cost of building temporary platforms has doubled.
As the Helensville community looks forward to July 14, when the first scheduled passenger train service to the city in 28 years begins as a 12-month trial, the Auckland Regional Transport Authority has confirmed the cost of three temporary platforms has ballooned to $900,000.
That is in addition to operating costs of just over $400,000 for the daily service, which will take 95 minutes to reach Britomart from 6.32am each week-day, returning at 5.30pm.
Authority spokeswoman Sharon Hunter said the construction increase from $450,000 arose from new safety specifications by Government rail agency Ontrack, requiring her organisation to build concrete instead of wooden platforms at Helensville, Waimauku and Huapai.
Although the authority predicts modest patronage for the four-car train of about 65 passengers from those three settlements, it expects them to be joined by many other commuters at its string of regular stations from Waitakere to New Lynn, most of which will be served by four trains an hour at peak times from July 14.
That represents a doubling of services between Swanson and Henderson, following Ontrack's completion of a $48 million phase of its western line duplication project
Regional councillor Joel Cayford said he remained doubtful the extension would deliver "the most bums on seats for our bucks".
He was concerned the transport authority was sacrificing other service improvements, such as a review of west Auckland bus routes, in a bid to trim its costs amid uncertainty surrounding a regional fuel tax as an added funding stream.
But council chairman Mike Lee said the whole objective was to tackle Auckland's chronic traffic congestion "and if we have a rail corridor that is under-utilised and a road corridor that is congested, then we are going to be backing rail services - it's a no-brainer."
He said he would be most surprised if the Helensville service did not follow the trend of every other recent improvement to the rail network, in becoming over-subscribed very quickly.
For the full story, go to:
The New Zealand Herald
Tuesday June 24, 2008
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