A commuter rail service between Hamilton and Auckland is picking up a head of steam, but Transport Minister Simon Bridges says it will still be some time before a train pulls into the station.
Bridges was at the sod-turning of the $115 million Longswamp section of the Waikato Expressway near Te Kauwhata on Friday when Waikato District Mayor Allan Sanson made a plea for rail to be part of the solution to increasing bottlenecks on State Highway 1.
"It is going to happen," Bridges said.
But it's not going to happen overnight, he added. The economics don't stack up and work is dependent on the electrification of the Auckland railway lines to Pukekohe.
"Once you do that, the case just becomes more and more compelling for more work further into Hamilton," he said.
"The truth is, it will be some time before it makes its case economically, but with some subsidy from the regional and local councils and work from KiwiRail and the Government, it's certainly not out of the question."
Four-laning the 5.9-kilometre Longswamp stretch is the seventh and final section of the expressway to get under way.
It is one of four sections of the $2.1 billion Waikato Expressway under construction in 2016, including the Rangiriri, Huntly and Hamilton sections.
Once complete, they will cut travel times between Auckland and Tirau by 35 minutes - but at Huntly and Rangiriri, at peak times, traffic comes to a crawl.
But Sanson said with the Waikato District expecting a population increase of 26 per cent, overtaking Queenstown as the nation's second-fastest growing region, Auckland's morning traffic could end up on his doorstep.
"As Waikato keeps gowing, the population keeps moving for work or for whatever reason, that bottleneck, I've said to the minister in the past, will actually be at the top of the Bombays and that's not going to do any of us any good," Sanson said.