HS2 Birmingham to Crewe link planned to open six years early
The government has announced plans to open a 43-mile section of the HS2 high-speed rail link between Birmingham and Crewe in 2027, six years earlier than originally hoped for.
Crewe has been chosen above Stoke-on-Trent as the next key staging post on the route to Manchester.
Improving transport links with the north of England is a key part of the government's transport policy.
The bill for the first stage of HS2 has not yet been through parliament.
The bill for the London to Birmingham section of the route, the biggest in parliamentary history, may not gain Royal Assent for a year.
Before that can happen, a committee is going through the planned route inch by inch with those affected.
The government hopes the London to Birmingham route will be completed by 2026, and the routes to Manchester and Leeds by 2033. A separate bill will be needed for the Manchester and Leeds routes.
Last year, the boss of HS2, Sir David Higgins, said the £55.7bn project should be completed sooner than that.
Analysis: Richard Westcott, BBC transport correspondent
The boss of HS2 recommended taking the line a further 43 miles to Crewe last year.
He argued that it's relatively straightforward in engineering terms yet would save a significant amount of time.
Now the government's agreed, despite a strong bid to go via Stoke instead.
Interestingly, today's announcement doesn't include plans for a new hub station at Crewe. That decision won't be taken until next Autumn.
New stations are the most expensive things of all, so it raises the prospect of something else losing out. In the past they've looked at whether a planned new station at Manchester Airport should be postponed although the government suggests that's no longer on the cards, "subject to agreeing an appropriate local funding contribution to the costs".
HS2 has dropped out of the headlines since the brand new government pledged unbending support, but there's still a long way to go before MPs even vote on the bill for the first leg, between London and Birmingham. That bill might not get Royal Assent until the end of next year.
Still, the project feels a lot more certain than it did a couple of years ago, when the then Shadow chancellor, Ed Balls (how long ago does that feel!) questioned its value for money.
I still meet a lot of people who think it's a waste of money with a woolly economic case though. And I don't just mean those with a house on the route. I mean economists and business people with no axe to grind.
Reaction: HS2 Birmingham to Crewe 'bitter blow'
The Chancellor, George Osborne also announced that the former head of the CBI business group John Cridland would chair a new body called Transport for the North, which will look to improve transport links across the North.
The new timetable means a part of the second phase of the project is due to open only a year after the first phase from London to Birmingham is due to be operational.
"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," the chancellor said.
The Treasury said journey times between Crewe and London would be cut by 35 minutes once the new route was open.
In his Spending Review last week, Mr Osborne confirmed that the government would spend £13bn on improving transport links in the North.