Construction has begun on one of southeast Queensland’s largest rail infrastructure projects, the state’s government says.

A sod turning ceremony to mark the commencement of $1.147 billion Moreton Bay Rail Link being constructed by Leighton subsidiary Thiess was held on Thursday.

First talked about in 1895, the 12.6-kilometre rail link will connect the greater Brisbane rail network, which currently ends at Petrie, to the rapidly growing Moreton Bay region. New stations will be built at Kippa-Ring, Rothwell, Mango Hill East, Mango Hill, Murrumba Downs and Kallangur.

Jointly funded by state and federal governments as well as the Moreton Bay Regional Council, the contract was awarded to the Trackstar team which, along with Thiess, includes design subcontractors Aurecon, AECOM, HASSELL as well as geotechnical subcontractor Golder Associates and is currently nearing completion of a rail link to the Springfield Growth Corridor in Brisbane’s southeast.

Moreton Bay Mayor Allan Sutherland says the start of construction heralds a century-old dream which will deliver substantially upgraded pedestrian, cycling and bus connectivity to an area where the population is expected to grow from 375,000 to more than 500,000 by 2031 and ease congestion on roads such as the Bruce Highway, Anzac Avenue, Gympie Road and the Gateway Motorway.

“The rail line was first talked about in the late 1800s and now we’re seeing the dreams and plans of our region’s pioneers coming to fruition,” Sutherland said. “We’re witnessing history in the making with the start of major construction signalling a public transport transformation for our region—one that could never have been imagined more than a century ago.”

Around 1,000 people are expected to be employed on the project. The link is expected to be operational by 2016.