Short listed bidders for early works associated with a $1.6 billion expansion of Sydney’s light rail network have been revealed.

On Tuesday, New South Wales Minister for Transport Gladys Berejiklian announced that Laing O’Rourke, Leighton Contractors and a joint venture between Downer EDI and the local subsidiary of New York based building and engineering giant Parsons Brinckerhoff had been shortlisted for the contract to perform early works associated with the CBD and South East Light Rail Project.

Part of a four-stage process to upgrade light rail services throughout the city, the project involves the completion of 12 kilometres of light rail with 20 stops connecting Circular Quay and the CBD with south east including Moore Park and the University of New South Wales, and will also see the pedestrianisation of George Street and between Bathurst and Hunter Streets as well as an overhaul of the CBD bus network to connect more effectively with light rail.

Scheduled to start later this year (subject to approvals), the early works construction involves upfront activities needed to manage or relocate buried utilities such as water, telecommunications, gas and electricity cables and pipes.

A later contract will involve a Public Private Partnership (subject to value for money) for the financing, design operation and maintenance of the broader project.

Berejiklian said the project had drawn widespread interest and that eight top tier building firms submitted tenders for the early works project. More that 110 representative from 66 private sector organisations across countries including Australia, France, Italy, Spain, Japan, Singapore and China attended an industry briefing last October that marked the start of the procurement process for the overall development.

“This strong response from a range of private construction firms is a vote of confidence in the CBD and South East Light Rail project,” Berejiklian said in a statement.

Once early works have begun, the overall development is expected to take around five to six years to complete.