A consortium involving the company that runs the Hong Kong metro rail system and several Leighton subsidiaries is in the box seat to secure the contract to build and maintain a major part of Sydney’s biggest rail infrastructure project after being selected as the preferred tenderer by the state government.

On Tuesday, New South Wales Premier Mike Baird and Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian announced that the Northwest Rapid Transit Consortium (NRTC) involving MTR and UGL Rail Services as well as Leighton Contractors, John Holland and financial sponsor Plenary Group had been selected as the preferred tenderer for the Operations, Trains and Systems contract associated with the $8.3 billion North West Rail Link project linking Chatswood to Rouse Hill.

NRTC has edged out the Transform consortium involving the Australian arm of London-listed Serco Group and local engineering and construction outfit McConnell Dowell.

If it is does indeed secure the final contract, NRTC would be responsible for building eight new rail stations; installing tracks, signalling and mechanical and electrical systems; upgrading the line between Epping and Chatswood to rapid transit status; building and operating a new stabling and maintenance facility; delivering 4,000 new car parking spaces and operating the North West Rail Link including the performance of all maintenance work.

The consortium will also be responsible for delivering new trains to run on the fully automated rapid transit system – an Australian first which the government says will incorporate driverless trains and high-tech safety and security measures which will allow trains to run closer together and therefore allow up to 30 trains per hour to run on the wider network.

The new contract is set to be delivered under a public private partnership model, the commercial details of which are expected to be released once the contracts are signed later this year.

Berejiklian welcomed the latest development, paying tribute to the Transform partners for their efforts and saying the search for the contract had drawn interest from outstanding candidates.

“This is a landmark moment for the North West Rail Link and the NSW Government will now work with the Northwest Rapid Transit consortium to further negotiate and finalise this multi-billion-dollar contract, which is expected to be awarded later this year,” Berejiklian said, adding that the project would represent one of the biggest ever public private partnership arrangements Australia had ever seen.

In other news, Berejiklian said the first of four tunnel boring machines is on its way for the tunnelling phase of the project, which is expected to generate around 900 construction jobs.

Following a naming competition amongst local school students, the first TBM will be named ‘Elizabeth’ after local colonial icon Elizabeth Rouse – a name given by local student Alexandra Marshall from Rose Hill Anglican College.

Berejiklian said the naming of TBMs after women was a worldwide tradition and she looked forward to Alexandra’s involvement in Elizabeth’s official launch in October.