The government has committed to producing detailed plans for the proposed High Speed 3 project from Manchester to Leeds.
Prime minister David Cameron said options, costs and timetables would be drawn up for the trans-Pennines route, with an interim report published in the spring.
Representatives of major Northern cities have formed a body called Transport for the North to work with the government on the HS3 proposals.
The project was mooted by chancellor George Osborne in June and formally proposed by an alliance of northern cities in August. It was further commended this morning by Sir David Higgins, chairman of the proposed HS2 project, which would branch at Birmingham into separate lines to Manchester and Leeds.
Cameron said: “Improving connectivity and reducing journey times between our great northern cities is a crucial part of our long-term economic plan for the North to boost businesses and create more jobs and security for hardworking people. That’s why we are backing HS3.
“I welcome Sir David Higgins’ report, which will help our work to create a northern powerhouse and ensure that HS2 delivers the maximum economic benefits.”
Higgins today insisted that as well as phase two of HS2 – from Birmingham to the North – improvements were needed to cut train journey times between Liverpool, Hull and the cities in between.
“I firmly believe that substantially improved services east-to-west across the North are not only desirable, but possible,” he said in his Rebalancing Britain report. “We need to turn the aspiration into a practical plan.”
Higgins said the rail journey from Leeds to Manchester – which currently takes a minimum of 48 minutes – could be slashed to 26.
Electrification and upgrade work west of Manchester could see the trip from Leeds to Liverpool reduced from 88 minutes to 60.
“This is as important to the North as Crossrail is to London,” said Higgins.