The promise of new hybrid-electric passenger trains also brings the prospect of high-skilled jobs to Wairarapa, in addition to more regular services.
The government has pledged to pay 90 per cent of the estimated $847 million cost of purchasing 18 four-car, tri-mode trains and related infrastructure, with the rest set to be covered by Greater Wellington Regional Council [GWRC] and Horizons Regional Council.
A new depot based in Masterton is “quite big for the town because those will be high-skilled jobs that will be coming – engineers, mechanics, etc,” GWRC chair Daran Ponter said.
There will be a tender out for the depot, which might go together with the tender for the trains, he said.
It is likely the company that manufactures the trains will also receive the tender for maintaining them, said Ponter, who noted the current fleet of trains is nearing the end of its life.
Built in 1972 for the British Rail, they were used for three decades in the United Kingdom before arriving in New Zealand in the early 2000s.
“By the time they came to us, they had already had a mid-life upgrade, and so we put them through a further mid-life upgrade, and now they have had another facelift,” Ponter said.
Wairarapa representative and GWRC deputy chair Adrienne Staples said she was “bouncing off the walls” when Ponter gave her the news.
Staples said she has been “banging on” about the importance of new trains for her whole time as a GWRC councillor.
The business case had previously been proposed to the government but it wasn’t picked up, she said.
The biggest “grizzle” people have about the trains – aside from reliability issues – is that the region does not have off-peak services, something Staples looks forward to the new fleet changing.
Ponter agreed the new trains will revolutionise transport in Wairarapa and the lower North Island.
“In the future, we will have a dedicated commuter line between Palmerston North and Wellington,” he said.
For Wairarapa, it could double peak-time services between Masterton and the capital.
The business case for the trains said there would also be more off-peak and weekend services on the line.
When asked about connecting buses, Ponter said as the frequency of train services increases, the bus network will need to be recalibrated to match the trains.
However, Ponter also pointed out the new train services and corresponding buses will not be up and running for about another five years.
“We’re in for a little bit of a long ride here – the next step is the tender process and then selecting our preferred contractor,” he said.
“Depending on the tenders that come in, that could be a bit faster or slower than what we have envisaged.”
Ponter said the new buses will require more investment, and GWRC would consider on-demand services for Wairarapa, which are currently being trialled in the north-Wellington suburb Tawa.
“We already have calls from councils in Wairarapa saying that on-demand sounds like precisely what [they] need,” said Ponter, who described the proposed bus system as a “pseudo-Uber or taxi service”.