Politicians unlock doors to New Zealand's first underground train station

Politicians and community leaders have gone underground to see if new life could be breathed into the defunct Hamilton Central Station.

It was not only Hamilton's first underground train station, but also New Zealand's. It was closed two decades ago and is now home to city taggers and serves as shelter for others.

Hamilton Mayor Andrew King, Labour's Hamilton list MP Jamie Strange and KiwiRail officials headed down to inspect the central station recently.

The expedition reaffirmed desires for a passenger line on the other side of the city - but that's a long term goal.

King preferred to keep his sights set on a future Frankton-Papakura route, instead of transforming Hamilton Central Station into a commuter's paradise.

"This [the underground station] is interesting, it's exciting, but it's not part of the immediate plan," he said.

The immediate plan includes a train service running twice in the morning to Auckland, and returning twice in the evening.

It will start at Frankton Station and stop at Rotokauri, Huntly, Tuakau and Papakura. From there, people can switch over to the Auckland line.

Hamilton City Council also acquired 2.1ha of land at Rotokauri near The Base to develop a park and ride facility so early morning passengers could traverse from the city to the shopping centre.

Hamilton city councillor Dave Macpherson said a commuter train connecting Hamilton and Auckland was working up to become reality.

If it happened, gone will be the days of sitting bumper to bumper along the Southern Motorway. Instead, travellers could be having a relatively stress-free excursion from as soon as April next year.

"That's the plan, which is pretty well worked on and supported in principle by the government," Cr Macpherson said.

"Somewhere in the 3-10 year period, we're going to expand that to a service with more trains per day and more stops and that's when you would go through Hamilton Central Station.

"I think [the station] is something that's got a lot of life left in it and we should plan to use it in the future, but because of how it's shut off and not easily accessible, it won't be something we'll use in the short-term," he said.

Hamilton central train station
The current state of the underground central Hamilton train station.  Paint job needed!
Sharing the optimism was Labour List MP Jamie Strange, who said it would be wonderful to see Hamilton Central brought back to life.

"We're not making any announcements, but it's very interesting to come down and have a look and see the state of the station.

"I'm excited that the government has indicated more investment in rail and I'm hopeful that Hamilton will be one of the beneficiaries," he said.

"When the station was built, I think it was certainly visionary. It's exciting Hamilton has this resource. It'll be interesting to see what potentially could come of it."

Hamilton Central rail line opened on September 19, 1964.

Included in the new line was an underground station beneath the Transport Centre where The Warehouse now stands.

The route runs under the unsuspecting feet of Centre Place shoppers, and the odd rumble can be felt within the Lido Cinema.

The station has been closed for 23 years and the only condoned movement is that which is made by up to 33 freight trains daily.

The entrance to the platform has been blocked, but empty beer cans and graffiti-covered walls are signs that the once-thriving station has become home to drifters.

If Hamilton Central was to be given a face-lift, it would require significant investment, Macpherson said.

To build another track would cost millions of dollars alone.

mages of Hamilton Central Station, circa May 1965
Image of Hamilton Central Station, circa May 1965. It was the first underground train station in New Zealand, closed 23 years ago.

KiwiRail spokesman Henare Clarke said if there was consideration around using Hamilton Central as a passenger train station, there would need to be a substantial amount of work done to the site.

"For us, it's very much a wait-and-see as to what the council and government want to do. There's lots of thing we'd have to work through," he said.

"We have up to 33 freight trains that go through on this line daily. It's a single line so every time there is a passenger train sitting on the line waiting to load or unload, we've got trains trying to move freight. That's one of the key considerations for us, outside of all the upgrading you'd need to do."

Clarke said historically, the station was intended as a passenger service, but the amount of freight transported through the tunnel outnumbered the residents using the trains.

He stressed the importance of safety around rail lines.

"Safety is front and centre for us. We want people to be aware that they've got to expect trains.

"Opening this up and letting Andrew [King] see what's in there was really all about a viability exercise, nothing more."

From Stuff.co.nz