The British government has given the go ahead for a high-speed rail network initially linking London and Birmingham and later cities further north.
The decision delighting business groups and unions but angering opponents along its route who have said it is unneeded and will scar some of the UK’s loveliest countryside.
To meet some of their concerns, extra parts of the route will be sunk into tunnels or cuttings.
The Y-shaped network extending to Manchester in the north west and Leeds in the north will be built in two phases, with construction on the route from London to Birmingham starting in 2017 and the first trains running in 2026.
The full scheme is due to be completed by 2033 and cost the equivalent of 40 billion euros at current prices.
The line will include a direct link to Britain’s only current high-speed line which connects London to France via the Channel Tunnel.
An extension to London’s Heathrow Airport would be part of the later construction stage.
A parliamentary vote on the scheme is not likely until 2013 or 2014, but the government can be confident of winning any vote as the line is backed by the opposition Labour party, which first proposed the project before it was voted out of power last year.