200mph link to London is on the right lines, says rail minister
Rail minister Lord Adonis is studying the plans as part of the case for establishing a 200mph French-style TGV rail link.
The plans were detailed in seven reports drawn up for the Department of Transport in 2007.
It is understood that the reports, which set out detailed costings, potential routes and environmental impacts, have been key in persuading Lord Adonis of the need for a high- speed rail network along the lines of the French model.
"We are looking seriously and urgently at the potential for high-speed rail in the UK," he said. "This study shows that a high-speed line is a perfectly viable and realistic option.
"Britain invented the railways and exported the technology to the rest of the world. It would be great if we were able to take a lead in high-speed rail technology in the 21st century."
A Department for Transport spokesperson said that the reports put an end to any speculation that an expensive mag-lev system – which involves trains carried on a magnetic field – might be used: "High Speed Rail two (the company in charge of the project] are expecting to publish the business case for a dedicated high speed line to the West Midlands, and potentially beyond, at the end of the year. It is unlikely that a mag-lev option will be considered."
A high-speed system is seen as being a greener solution to improving Britain's transport infrastructure than expanding the motorway network or adding further domestic flights.
Despite a 9 billion upgrade to the west coast main line, officials believe it will need extra capacity by 2024.
The study suggests that to build the line from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow would cost 29 billion, with an additional extension to Leeds, York and Sheffield adding a further 10 billion.
However, it is understood that these figures are merely projections based on a network which incorporates both new rail lines and existing ones, and are likely to vary greatly, as the government is thought to favour an entirely new line.
Professor David Begg, chairman of the Northern Way Transport Compact, which provides information on strategic transport issues for the north of England, and former chairman of the Commission for Integrated Transport, said that the potential stumbling block would be financing the network. He said that passengers already felt that they paid too much in fares and would not entertain rises to fund the network, while the economic downturn made government finance a thorny issue.
"While this is an encouraging report, this project is going to be a battle between Transport and the Treasury," he said. "There are going to be all sorts of demands on the public purse and the government's finances are going to be in a disastrous state in the next few years.
"People are agreed that a high-speed link is a good idea, but who is going to pay for it?
"It will require a campaign that means no matter which party is in power, they will feel compelled to see it through."
However, while both Westminster and Scottish governments have backed the scheme, doubts have been cast on whether such a rail link between London would be achieved quickly.
British Airways' chief executive Willie Walsh said last month that while it would be a "fantastic development", he didn't think it would happen in his lifetime.