George Osborne advances timetable for HS2 services to Crewe
George Osborne has confirmed that HS2 trains will run to Crewe by 2027 - six years earlier than first planned.
The Chancellor also announced that former CBI chief John Cridland is to become the first chair of Transport for North, with a remit to improve connections across the region.
The rail link was originally due to stretch from London to Birmingham by 2026, and then reach Manchester and Leeds by 2033.
But HS2 boss Sir David Higgins proposed speeding up the £50 billion project last year.
Mr Osborne said last week's Spending Review had heralded the biggest rise in transport investment in a generation.
"Bringing forward this part of the HS2 route by six years is a massive step in the right direction for the Northern Powerhouse where high speed rail will play a big role in connecting up the entire region with the rest of the country," he said.
Mr Osborne added that Mr Cridland would bring "huge knowledge and experience" to TfN.
Sir David, who is also publishing a report today recommending a new hub station in Leeds, said: "This is another significant milestone in the development of Britain's high speed rail network.
"By accelerating the second phase between Birmingham and Crewe, we will bring the capacity, connectivity and regeneration benefits of HS2 to the North-West and Scotland years earlier than originally planned.
"It has also been very gratifying, as we develop the plans for Phase Two, to see a consensus grow among the city regions in the East Midlands and Yorkshire on the siting of future hub stations at Toton and Leeds city centre respectively."
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin is publishing a Command Paper setting out the route for Phase 2a of the project, to Crewe and beyond.
Shadow transport secretary Lilian Greenwood said: "Once again George Osborne's rhetoric is not matched by the reality. Ministers have delayed HS2's legislation by 18 months, electrification of key lines in the North have been put back by years and passengers were hit last year by fare rises of up to 162%.
"Investment in transport is welcome, but at some point the Chancellor has to stop promising and start delivering. HS2 is vital for relieving chronic capacity constraints on our overcrowded rail network. The Government must now get on with building this important project."
The director general of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Nick Baveystock, welcomed the acceleration of construction of the Birmingham-Crewe line, saying: "The North needs the benefits of high speed rail as soon as possible.
"We know from experience that greater continuity between the two phases of a project can create a positive impact on the UK's engineering skills pipeline, as the workforce does not need to be retrained or stood down halfway through."