Three consortiums remain in the race to design, build and operate Waterloo Region`s $818-million light rail transit system.

The finalists, operating under the names GrandLinq, Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge Transit Partners and TriCity Transit Systems, were announced at a Friday afternoon news conference.

Each group has a mix of local, national and international companies partnering to try and land the contract, and until September to state their case for doing so.

“At the end of it, what we really want to see is the best technical proposal – the one that delivers everything we want, and then, hopefully, at absolutely the lowest price we can get for that,” said Thomas Schmidt, the region’s transportation commissioner.

A total of seven consortiums responded to a request for qualifications issued last fall.

“Of those seven, which were all pretty strong responses, we’re really happy with the three finalists,” said Waterloo Coun. Sean Strickland.

Officials say the applicants were evaluated on a number of criteria, including their ability to land financing for the project, their experience with similar projects and the specifics of their design and construction approach.

The finalists must still be ratified by regional council and the region`s planning and works committee.

The final decision on which consortium will win the contract is expected to be made in early 2014. The winning bidder will receive a contract worth an estimated $600 million, but not including the actual LRT vehicle, which the region has agreed to purchase from Bombardier.

LRT is scheduled to be running along 19 kilometres of track through Kitchener and Waterloo by 2017.