The government today announced it had shortlisted nine companies bidding for up to £11.8bn of work on HS2 between London and Crewe.
It has also started the formal tendering process for up to £900m worth of work to prepare sites for construction and the start of the procurement process to grow several million trees. Contracts covering the 140 miles from London to Birmingham are expected to be signed in 2017 with work starting the following year.
The nine companies are Align Joint Venture, ASL, Balfour Beatty, Catalyst, Carillion-Eiffage-Kier (joint venture), Fusion, LFM, Momentum Infrastructure and SCS.
The line between Birmingham and Crewe is not expected to be open until 2027.
Meanwhile, legislation paving the way for the rail link has cleared its final stage in the Commons, though still faces a vote in the House of Lords.
The project was approved by 399 votes to 42 and is backed by both the Conservative and Labour leadership.
HS2 Ltd, the company running the project, said it will create up to 14,600 jobs and apprentices across the UK.
"Today’s announcements are a major milestone for the project. Over the next 10 years HS2 will help create tens of thousands of job opportunities, build specialist skills and expertise across the country and create at least 2,000 new apprenticeships," said HS2 Ltd chief executive Simon Kirby.
"This major moment in the procurement process takes us a step further to getting spades in the ground next year, so construction can begin on this vital railway," said transport minister Robert Goodwill.