Lord Adonis said electric trains would offer better services for passengers
Commuters will have their journey times slashed between major stations in the north west of England as part of a £200m rail electrification scheme.
Plans to electrify three routes have been unveiled, following last week's pre-budget hint from Alistair Darling.
It means faster electric trains will be able to run from Blackpool North to both Liverpool and Manchester.
In July, the government revealed plans to electrify the intercity line between Liverpool and Manchester.
The latest announcement is in addition to that project, which is already under way.
Under the new scheme, lines to be electrified are:
The 15-mile line between Huyton and Wigan, allowing electric trains between Liverpool and Wigan via St Helens
The 25-mile route between Manchester and Euxton junction, allowing electric trains between Manchester and Preston, via Bolton
The 17-mile route between Blackpool North and Preston, allowing electric trains between the resort and Liverpool and Manchester
The government said the programme meant two-thirds of all passenger rail routes would be electric by 2017.
Transport Secretary Lord Adonis said: "Electric trains are not only quicker, but quieter, smoother and more reliable than diesels.
This investment in rail infrastructure is good news but what isn't clear at this stage is how this will address the capacity issues passengers face
Keith Whitmore, Greater Manchester Integrated Transport Authority
"Electrification creates the opportunity to carry more passengers thanks to longer trains on these busy routes and to allow some 30-year-old Pacer diesel trains to be retired.
"It also allows existing diesels to be re-deployed to provide longer trains on busy routes elsewhere.
"This is a further step in the biggest electrification programme in a generation and it's a vital part of our rail investment and carbon reduction strategies."
Transport boss in Greater Manchester welcomed the announcement, but said more still needed to be done to tackle overcrowding.
Councillor Keith Whitmore, chair of Greater Manchester Integrated Transport Authority (GMITA), said: "This investment in rail infrastructure is good news but what isn't clear at this stage is how this will address the capacity issues passengers face.
"As regular users of the network will know all too well, peak-time services are already overcrowded and the demand for local rail services looks set to continue to grow."
Independent passenger watchdog, Passenger Focus, welcomed the announcement.
Chief executive Anthony Smith said: "Passengers in the North West will benefit from an electrified network as it will improve reliability and potentially speed up services which could reduce passengers' journey times.
"Passengers tell us that more trains, punctual services and getting a seat should be the industry's top priority and electrification will help address these."
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.