Geotechnical work has commenced for the building of a light rail network which will connect the central part of Sydney to major sporting, education and health precincts in the city’s southeast.

On Tuesday, state Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said geotechnical testing for the $1.6 billion, 12-kilometre CBD and South East Light Rail project is set to take place in the coming weeks.

Work is set to include surveying along the length of the alignment to identify existing buried utilities such as water and electricity, geophysical testing to be performed using a utility vehicle towing sensors and geotechnical field work along certain sections of the alignment to test for soil and rock structures.

Berejiklian said delivering the project in a busy urban environment would be challenging, and the work will help the government refine plans for design and construction.

She said the project will transform Sydney and provide ‘turn-up-and-go’ services and act as a catalyst for urban renewal along the route.

“We are getting on with the job of delivering the CBD and South East Light Rail and this work is an important step as the project ramps up,” she said.

Part of a broader four-stage process the government says will deliver improved light rail services throughout the city, the project involves the construction and operation of lines extending from Circular Quay to Kingsford and Randwick via Surry Hills.

Key features include 20 light rail stops, a new pedestrian zone along part of George Street, around 12 new substations to power vehicles running along the line, a stabling facility at Randwick and a maintenance facility at Lilyfield.

Set to commence in 2014 (subject to planning approvals) and take around six years, the project is expected to generate around 10,000 jobs during construction.

An Environmental Impact Statement was released earlier this month and will be on display until December 12.