Launching one of the biggest public consultations ever undertaken, Hammond warned that Britain’s transport network cannot afford to be left behind while competitor countries improve their transport infrastructure.
He said the high-speed rail scheme linking London to the Midlands and beyond would deliver £44bn of benefits to the economy while slashing travel times from the capital by up to an hour.
“We must invest in Britain’s future. High speed rail offers us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the way we travel in the 21st century and would help us build a modern economy fit for the future,” he added.
“Countries across Europe and Asia are already pressing ahead with ambitious plans for high speed rail, while some of our key rail arteries are getting ever closer to capacity.
“We cannot afford to be left behind – investing in high speed rail now is vital to the prosperity of future generations.”
Construction is due to start in 2015, although some scheme insiders fear the timetable to pass the Hybrid Bill in 2013 leaves insufficient time to meet the proposed construction timetable.
Institution of Civil Engineers Director General, Tom Foulkes, said: “High Speed Rail carries huge economic and environmental potential and could free up capacity on an already stretched network.
“The consultation on the preferred route is a welcome step towards progressing this ambitious project, however actually delivering it still demands the very strongest commitment going forwards, both politically and financially.”
The consultation will run until 29 July and events will take place in towns and cities along the 140-mile proposed route between London and the West Midlands, as well as in major cities across the country.
The proposed Y-shaped network would be delivered in two phases – the first a line from London to the West Midlands, and the second the onward legs to Manchester and Leeds.
The Government has pledged a raft of measures to reduce the impact of the line including building noise barriers, earth embankments and green tunnels where the line is built in a deep cutting and covered with a grass-topped roof.
Hammond said there would be fair compensation and sound-proofing will be offered to those whose homes will be affected by noise.
Campaigners against HS2 will tonight light more than 40 bonfire beacons from Buckinghamshire to Staffordshire to signal their opposition.
If the plans go ahead, the government expects the line to the West Midlands to be completed by 2026 and the legs to Manchester and Leeds finished in 2032-2033.