The contracting process for Sydney’s $1.6 billion CBD and South East Light Rail Project has began, the New South Wales government says.

On Tuesday, State Minister for Transport Gladys Berejiklian said procurement processes for the both the major contract and the early works contract are underway.

Set to commence in 2014 (subject to planning approvals) and take around five or six years to build, the new line will extend approximately 12 kilometres from Circular Quay along George Street to Central Station and then to Kingsford via Anzac Parade and Randwick via Allison Road. It will link Circular Quay and Central, the Moore Park sporting and entertainment precinct including the Sydney Cricket Ground and Sydney Football Stadium, Randwick Racecourse, the University of NSW and Prince of Wales Hospital at Randwick.

Aside from the line itself, construction will include 22 new stops, interchanges at Central Station, Town Hall, Wynyard and Circular Quay and bus interchanges at both Randwick and Kingsford, a pedestrian zone from Bathurst Street to Hunter Street with light rail operating through the centre and segregated traffic and light rail lanes between Central Station and Bathurst Street and between Hunter Street and Circular Quay.

Once complete, the government says the new services will provide faster and more reliable service, increase capacity, reduce congestion, improve connections where people live, work and visit and create opportunities for more pedestrian friendly streets, open spaces and revitalised areas.

Set to be delivered via a Public Private Partnership, the major contract will cover design, construction, services relocations, operation and maintenance as well as the operation and maintenance of the Inner West Light Rail network. Early works will be delivered under a separate contract.

Berijiklian says the commencement of the procurement process was welcome and that the government had negotiated Memoranda of Understandings with key partners and finalised the project’s delivery strategy.

She says finding contractors with the right credentials would be key to the project’s success.

“This expansion of the light rail network in Australia’s only global city will present challenges, so we are looking for companies with knowledge and experience in managing complex projects in busy urban environments,” she noted.

The latest developments follow last week’s awarding of a contract to prepare the environmental impact statement for the M4 Widening Stage of Sydney’s WestConnex road project, which the government awarded to a joint team from local engineering consultancy SMEC and UK consultants RPS.

Expressions of interest for both of the light rail contracts will be released on October 21, while an industry briefing will be held later this month.

Subject to planning approval, both contracts are expected to be awarded in mid to late 2014.