A study to decide whether planned high-speed rail lines should be extended north into Newcastle and on to Scotland has begun.
Transport Minister Baroness Kramer is leading the investigation into the future of the high-speed line known as HS2.
Under current proposals, the line will run from London to Birmingham and then split into two, with one line running north west to Manchester and the other running north east to the East Midlands, Sheffield and Leeds.
Ministers argue that the North East already shares the benefits from HS2 because trains will then switch directly on to the East Coast Main Line without stopping and continue to Darlington and Newcastle, cutting long-distance journey times to and from Newcastle.
But the new study is to look at what more can be done to ensure towns and cities north of the line as it is currently planned, all the way to Glasgow and Edinburgh, share in the benefits.
The inquiry is at its very earliest stages and has not yet drawn up a detailed list of options to be considered.
But the Department for Transport said it would consider extending the high-speed line or improving the existing East Coast Main Line and West Coast Main Line in the North and Scotland, or a combination of the two.
Baroness Kramer said: “Our goal for HS2 is for a truly national network that will bring the UK and its cities closer together.
“We are driving forward HS2 because the benefits it will bring are huge. Without it we face a crisis in capacity on our rail network.”
A final report will be submitted to the Department for Transport next year for ministers to consider.
The high-speed rail project has come in for criticism over the projected £42.6bn cost.
But North East MP Phil Wilson, who represents Sedgefield, said it would create jobs for the region.
He highlighted Hitachi’s plans to open a factory in his constituency building intercity trains, adding: “Hitachi is opening a factory in my constituency which is going to build the intercity express programme trains - that is just one example of what impact this will have on factories in areas that, in the first instance, are not affected by high-speed rail, because the route will not be going through the North East initially. We are talking about 730 jobs, with 3,000 to 5,000 jobs in the supply chain.”
He added: “We should not forget that Hitachi built the bullet train in Japan, so if Hitachi is lucky enough to win the contract, it will have the technology to build the trains in this country.
“These trains would not be imported; they could be built in this country. That would mean 3,200 permanent jobs, not necessarily at Newton Aycliffe, but around the country, and jobs to maintain the trains as well. The capacity for the supply chain is fantastic.”
MPs this week backed a Bill allowing ministers to spend money planning the route and buying up property along the proposed track. Another Bill allowing construction to begin will be voted on in the spring.