Plans for $45 billion investment in a 540 km core network of high-speed railroads were launched by the U.K. government on March 11. Work on an initial 206 km line between London and the Birmingham area, estimated to cost up $26 billion, could start around 2017, forecasts the Department for Transport.

“Building this network would not only revolutionize Britain’s transport, but would also present significant new opportunities for the U.K.’s design, engineering, construction and manufacturing sectors,” says transportation secretary Andrew Adonis.

At this stage, the government expects the project to be publicly funded.

The core Y-shaped network, for 400 km per hour trains, would connect London, Birmingham, Manchester, the East Midlands, Sheffield and Leeds. The initial line to Birmingham would  extend the U.K.’s only truly high-speed, between London and the Channel tunnel.

“Such an ambitious project demands the very strongest commitment, both politically and financially,” says Tom Foulkes Director General of the Institution of Civil Engineers. “Political wrangling must be avoided and cross party consensus achieved to give the public more confidence and speed-up delivery.”