The journey from Masterton to Wellington is set to become faster by train than by car in the wake of railway track upgrade work and highway speed reductions.
Kiwirail has been undertaking a major rebuild of the tracks between Upper Hutt and Masterton, due for completion in late 2025.
The work includes track renewals, remedial works on three bridges, new crossing loops to enable trains to pass each other, more half-arm barriers at level crossings, and a new signalling system between Featherston and Masterton.
The upgrades come after decades of degradation and underinvestment in the tracks, which have temporary train speed restrictions due to their poor condition.
A 2021 report by Greater Wellington Regional Council [GWRC] said the upgrades could mean the end of most of the restrictions north of Remutaka Tunnel, shaving up to 15 minutes off the 100-minute rail journey time.
Waka Kotahi NZTA reduced the speed limits on SH2 from Featherston to Masterton last week and has said they intend to drop the Remutaka Hill Rd speed limit to 60kmh in the future, further slowing down the 90-minute car journey.
GWRC is also seeking funding to replace the 50-year-old Wairarapa Line trains, which will reach their end of service life in 2028. GWRC is also seeking funding to replace the 50-year-in 2028. old Wairarapa Line trains, which will reach their end of service life.
GWRC Deputy Chair and Wairarapa representative Adrienne Staples said the council was working with the central government to buy new rolling stock, which would be ready for 2028 if funding was obtained this year.
“We simply don’t have the carriages and the locomotive to be able to have those services that seem sensible to have,” she said.
“The plan is to get new rolling stock that is battery and diesel-electric powered so that it will be able to run on the main electricity lines on the other side of the hill, and probably battery and diesel operated on this side of the hill.”
Staples said the new trains would probably be able to be driven from both ends, and GWRC plans to increase service capacity and frequency at peak and off-peak times.
Staples also said the council would consider the possibility of a shuttle service to Upper Hutt.
“The old trains run out of time and 2028, so this is pretty urgent.
“We need to secure funding for new trains. There is no plan B.”
In its regional public transport plan, GWRC has forecast Wairarapa’s population to grow in the coming decades.
The plan said this growth would need to be supported by continued infrastructure investment to improve public transport services.