Construction cranes are not often objects of pictorial celebration but they should be. The number of cranes on the skyline of Auckland's CBD is worth the attention we are giving them on pages 6-7 today. They are one of the visible signs of an expanding economy, which the Finance Minister will celebrate in the Budget on Thursday. He will have to concede, though, that all the construction the city can see is not nearly enough to keep pace with the accommodation needed for Auckland's projected population.

As our graphic shows, five of the 11 cranes in the picture are working on apartment projects. The CBD long ago ceased to be a dead centre after office hours. Apartment blocks already proliferate and many more are on the way. They will be coming to suburban centres too as the catalyst for their development - the long proposed central rail link - begins to reshape the residential character of Auckland.

None of the cranes we picture are working on the rail link and the one that is operating on the site of SkyCity's planned international convention centre can barely be seen. But those two projects will dwarf all others before long. Already the preparatory work for the rail tunnels under Albert St - moving the underground services - is causing severe disruption and delays to traffic in Victoria St and in the lanes and carpark exits around it.

The next few years will be trying for central city businesses, workers and residents as tunnels are cut and covered from Britomart to Albert St's junction with Wyndham St.


Beyond that point, the tunnel will be drilled deep underground but additional stations will be built on the surface. Businesses are already moving out of its way, like the law firm in our report that is moving from Wyndham St to the Viaduct.

The project could turn the lower western side of Queen St into a ghost precinct that the Auckland Council and property owners must hope will be temporary. Erstwhile tenants, re-established in places such as the Viaduct and the Wynyard Quarter, may be reluctant to return. But if the rail link works as intended once it's finished, the whole CBD will benefit.

The early signs are promising. Those cranes and and the activity beneath them are evidence of investment in the place the CBD is going to be when trains can run frequently and fast from distant corners of the region to the centre. Much of the commuter traffic will still go to other commercial and industrial areas but it will travel more freely, too, if the rail system lures the city-bound from their cars. The cranes are saying it will happen.

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