NPP: Businesses want 'Northern Crossrail' investment
More than 5,000 businesses are calling on the government to invest in a high-speed railway link across the north of England.
The proposed £39bn project, dubbed the "Crossrail of the North", would see journey times halved between major northern cities.
A survey by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP) found companies believed the upgraded network would boost productivity and investment.
The government is considering the plan.
The report's findings have been backed by former chancellor George Osborne, who is the chair of the NPP.
He said improving rail links and connecting to the proposed HS2 rail network from London to the north had the "potential to revolutionise the Northern economy".
"The message coming loud and clear is that HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) are critical for businesses to remain, grow and invest in the North," he said.
"Government must hear that message and provide the funding the Northern Powerhouse so badly needs."
Businesses surveyed ranged from small enterprises to large multinational corporations, including Siemens and Manchester Airports Group.
More than 70% of the companies said they would "commit to new investment if NPR was confirmed" and 85% believed that NPR would increase investment across the north.
The report cites Manchester Airport as an example of how businesses could benefit from improved rail links.
The airport's owners claim NPR, which was first mooted in 2014 and has also been called "HS3", would "treble the number of passengers within a two-hour rail journey of Manchester Airport from 3.5 million to 10 million".
Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of Liverpool City Region said the proposal would deliver a "boost to our economy".
"I will ensure that we keep up the pressure on the Government to deliver the connectivity to maximise the potential in our City Region and throughout the North of England."
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Rail Minister Andrew Jones said: "It's brilliant to see widespread business support for NPR, and a recognition of the importance of linking it to HS2."
The Department of Transport would not confirm when a decision on the rail line will be made.
It did say the funding required for the improvements would come from the public purse. It is thought the project will cost up to £39bn.
In 2017, more than 70,000 people signed a petition calling for Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to back the NPR rail improvements.