Transport minister, Rosie Winterton, has announced proposals to increase rail capacity through Manchester.
Winterton made the announcement at Manchester Piccadilly Station, saying Network Rail had been ordered to carry out a detailed study on how best to increase the number of trains that are able to run through the city.
This will in turn enable more and faster trains to operate across the North, particularly key services between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle.
The increased capacity could also potentially allow faster and more direct services to Manchester Airport, and more freight traffic to connect with ports across the North.
Steven Broomhead, chief executive of the North West Development Agency, said: "The agency welcomes the announcement of the detailed study. Such long term planning is essential to effective infrastructure provision in the region. Investment into the North West's rail network, creating a major hub for the North's towns and cities will unlock the region's economic power."
The chairman of Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority also welcomed the news that Manchester is set to become one of the country's key rail hubs.
Councillor Roger Jones said: "This is great news for Manchester and the North. The Passenger Transport Authority has lobbied for years for greater investment in the Manchester rail hub and was instrumental in setting up the North West Rail Campaign. I am delighted that the government has now asked Network Rail to pursue the Manchester hub as a priority.
"The potential for national investment in resolving this critical element of our rail network alongside Greater Manchester's Transport Innovation Fund proposals is a very exciting prospect. It would underpin the future economic potential of our city region."