The railway line between Sheffield and Manchester is to be upgraded, cutting journey times by 10 minutes.
The government has announced work to allow passenger trains on the Hope Valley line to overtake slow freight trains.
Sheffield City Council leader Julie Dore said the decision was long-awaited but “not enough”.
She said the changes would mean journeys of 50 minutes would be reduced to about 40.
Ms Dore said work can start as soon as funding is available, possibly as early as 2019, and will take 18 months to two years to complete.
Analysis – James Vincent, BBC Yorkshire Political Editor
In your wildest dreams did you ever imagine doing a 30-odd mile journey in 30 minutes? Amazing! Welcome to the future!
Sarcasm has sometimes been necessary when talking about and travelling on our rail lines in the North. We all know about the big new shiny north-south route being planned, but what we really need is better links across the Pennines.
While the plan announced today doesn’t set in stone half-hour journey times between Sheffield and Manchester, it sets the groundwork. Literally.
Work will be done to shift freight trains out of the way to make sure carriages full of commuters can pass easily and quickly.
It’s been widely welcomed but many here will still be sceptical, as well as sarcastic, until they see it happen.
The Department for Transport (DfT) granted approval for Network Rail’s plans, subject to modifications, for new passing facilities to tackle frequent delays between Bamford and Dore.
However the Northern Powerhouse’s rail vision is for journey times of 30 minutes with six trains per hour across the Pennines.
There are currently two to three trains per hour throughout the day, and journey times of 50-80 minutes.
“It’s been through various procedures since 2009 and we do now need the funding to get on with the work,” she said.
A price has not yet been put on the scheme.
In September, the BBC learnt that work to bring HS2 to Sheffield could mean years of disruption, with roads and tram lines being moved and a new platform built.