The Te Huia commuter train from Hamilton to Auckland launched for the first time on Tuesday morning. John Feyter checks his phone as he gets ready to work on the train.
A whistle blew in the black pre-dawn darkness at Frankton rail station in Hamilton.
The highly-anticipated passenger train – the first inter-regional service for decades – was lit up in yellow light, commuters were hurrying to their seats as the 5.46 am service edged away.
About 70 passengers were en route to Auckland in the first train bound for Auckland that can seat 200.
Many were no doubt still dreaming as the coffee machine started whirring awake and Te Huia hit Rotokauri Transport Hub at the Base.
Gill Bonnett tracked the first official journey for the new commuter train service between Hamilton and Auckland.
But Sam Sood was uniform ready, gazing out the window at the shifting darkness.
The electrician, who works in Papatoetoe, said he’d been waiting for a passenger train for 12 years.
“When I came here from India years ago, the first thing I asked was can I take a train to Hamilton?
“The lady looked at me and smiled, she said ‘we don’t do trains to Hamilton’.”
Sood said it was “about time” rail connected Auckland to one of its closest smaller cities.
“Auckland is the biggest city in New Zealand and Hamilton already has a lot of potential around its growth, there should be a fast link between the two cities.”
The infrastructure and refurbished quality of the train had exceeded his expectations, he said.
He would try to take the train when he could, but the length of the journey and the timetable was dissuading him from commuting on it every day.
He wanted to see another service leaving Papakura at 5.30pm. Currently the return trips were scheduled for 4.42 and 6.25 pm.
Usually he drives to work, and if he beats the traffic the total time in the car would be two and a half hours, versus a total of five hours in the train.
“I can’t justify getting up every morning at 5 am and not coming home until 8 pm at night.”
Meanwhile, defence force employee Sam Dysart had his laptop out for an even longer commute – he was bound for Devonport.
Which meant boarding the train at Huntly, a transfer from Papakura to Britomart, then a ferry ride to the North Shore.
But he was committed to the train due to his hatred for driving.
“Yeah, it’s five hours versus three hours, but hopefully I’ll be coming home in a better mood: less aggro and frustrated.”
One of the KiwiRail employees at the café had the same feathered namesake of the train: Huia.
“That’s how I got the job,” Huia Te Momo laughed.
Te Momo had moved from Palmerston North to Hamilton to be employed on board the new service.
Having worked at the Capital Connection train from Palmerston North to Wellington, Te Momo said she wanted to experience the growth of a new service.
“Plus I had to move, the name was a sign.”
The café was a magnet for the sleep-deprived travellers, brewing about 40 coffees over the course of the 94-minute journey.
The train pulled into Papakura station four minutes ahead of scheduled arrival time, at 7.21 am, and the Waikato passengers disembarked into the onward morning rush of the super-city.
With a transfer at Papakura to Britomart, passengers arrived at central Auckland at 8.29 am. The total length of journey was about two hours, 45 minutes.
Stuff caught Te Huia driver Wayne Menehira as Te Huia was ready to leave Papakura, empty of commuters.
The 100 kilometre route was a smooth passage, Menehira said.
“It was just another job, but now It’s starting to open up, and I’m starting to think wow, that was a maiden voyage for me.”