Rail links between Leeds and Manchester are "extraordinarily slow" and could benefit from a new high speed rail line, according to a government minister.
Transport minister Lord Adonis sarcastically said it was "quite an achievement" that the 45 mile journey between the two cities takes almost an hour.
His comments are another signal that evolving plans for a high speed rail network will include West Yorkshire and come just weeks after Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon said he is "very attracted" to the idea of a TGV-style trains running to Leeds.
Yorkshire MPs were left disappointed in January when Mr Hoon unveiled high-speed plans which involved the line stopping in the West Midlands.
However, the government has subsequently ordered High Speed Two, the company which has been charged with drawing up the plans, to also advise ministers on extending it further north.
Lord Adonis said ministers would agree a "way forward" by early next year.
He said: "We have asked High Speed Two to propose a high-speed plan to us by the end of the year, starting with a firm route proposition – and associated economic and environmental assessments – for a line from London to the West Midlands, with advice also on the possibilities for extension beyond the West Midlands in terms of services to the great conurbations of the north-west, West Yorkshire, the north-east and central Scotland."
Lord Adonis said that the country's only high speed rail link – from St Pancras to the Channel Tunnel – had dramatically relieved congestion on commuter lines between East Kent and London.
He said that similar "capacity pressures" exist in other "strategic rail corridors", including the trans-Pennine route between Leeds and Manchester.
Speaking at a rail conference in London, he said: "The government's High Speed Two document highlights the rail corridor from London to the West Midlands.
"But I am also struck by the limitations imposed by poor network conditions elsewhere in terms for example of extraordinarily slow journey times between major conurbations.
"Consider Manchester, Bradford and Leeds, three of the biggest population and business centres in the country.
"Manchester and Leeds are separated by only 43 trans-Pennine rail miles, but the rail journey time is 55 minutes – an average speed as slow as London to Canterbury, which is quite an achievement."
He said that although there is a high price involved in building high speed lines, "there is also a high price involved in not building them where additional rail capacity is required anyway".