By Jonathan Davies

Plans to build a new high-speed rail link dubbed "HS3" in North England have been backed by the boss of the HS2 scheme.

Sir David Higgins said improved rail links between the Northern cities is "desirable" and "possible".

It is thought that a high-speed link between Manchester and Leeds could cut journey times from 48 minutes to 26 minutes.

An interim report into the plausibility of a HS3 link will be submitted by March.

Sir David has not yet given specific proposals, but said a collection of current projects could achieve faster journey times. He also raised the possibility of doubling the number of trains running per hour, constructing a tunnel under the Pennines or upgrading the current track.

Sir David said the first step must be a "clear strategy to address poor connectivity across the north from Liverpool to Hull, as well as to Sheffield and Newcastle."

Earlier this year, the Chancellor George Osborne said better links could create a northern economic powerhouse and asked Sir David to consider the options.

In his report, Rebalancing Britain, Sir David said: "I firmly believe that substantially improved services east-west across the North are not only desirable, but possible.

"We need to turn the aspiration into a practical plan."

Sir David added: "This initial work needs to continue, and intensify, to identify the best route, how and when it would be constructed, and its cost.

"This is as important to the North as Crossrail is to London."

Prime Minister David Cameron said: "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."

Katja Hall, CBI Deputy Director-General, said: “We agree that northern cities should speak with one voice and it's important that local transport providers and businesses are also involved if we are to prioritise the most cost-effective and beneficial upgrades for the north as a whole.

“Sir David is right to focus on improving east-west links and the priority must be on boosting connections not speed. Any proposals must be well thought-out and the business case water-tight."

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