Transport secretary Philip Hammond is set to announce that the Government will build two branches of the new £33 billion high-speed rail network north of Birmingham.
According to Mr Hammond, who will address delegates at the Conservative Party conference, the so-called Y-option is preferred by ministers over a single S-shaped line crossing the Pennines.
The plan will therefore see two lines being built - one between Birmingham and Manchester, and the other between Birmingham and Leeds.
From Manchester and Leeds, the high-speed rail link will then join the existing east and west coast routes, meaning journey times between London and Glasgow and Edinburgh will be cut to just three and a half hours.
The cost of the network, which will start in London, is estimated at about £33 billion, although more detailed cost analysis is to be undertaken next year, as is a consultation on the plans.
The cost includes linking up the new network with Heathrow airport and the existing high-speed rail link between London and the Channel Tunnel. Construction is expected to start in 2015.
Ministers have plumped for the Y-option because it is thought to offer the best return on the investment, estimated to be £2 for every £1 put in.
Mr Hammond will tell the Birmingham conference that his plans would support economic growth and, by offering an alternative to air and car travel, cut carbon emissions.
“We will consult in the New Year on the strategic roll-out of a high-speed rail network and on our preferred route for the first leg between London and Birmingham.
“But I can announce today that the Government’s preferred option for high speed rail north of Birmingham will be for two separate corridors - one direct to Manchester, and then connecting on to the west coast mainline, and the other via the East Midlands and South Yorkshire, with stations in both areas, before connecting to the east coast mainline north of Leeds,” he will say.