Rail line closed in the 1960s as part of the infamous Beeching cuts could be reopened, Chris Grayling said on Tuesday.
The transport secretary said he would identify routes that could boost the economy and encourage house building, part of a government strategy to be published on Wednesday that will detail future plans for Britain’s rail network.
Thousands of stations and hundreds of branch lines were closed between 1964 and 1970 on the recommendation of British Railways chairman Dr Richard Beeching.
Among those due to be reopened is the link between Oxford and Cambridge, the Department of Transport said.
The Treasury has confirmed the funding for Network Rail to deliver phase two of the western section of East West Rail, from Bicester to Bedford and Milton Keynes to Princes Risborough. Services are scheduled to start in 2023.
An independent East West Rail Company will be set up to deliver the central section between Bedford and Cambridge, due to open in the mid-2020s.
"Many commuter services are full and getting busier and passengers know how much pressure the network is under,” Grayling said.
"We are already investing in the biggest modernisation of railways for over a century to help people travel more quickly and in greater comfort. But we need a new way of working to help our railway deal with the challenges it faces.
"We need to expand our network to unlock jobs and housing growth across the country. We're already accelerating plans to reopen the railway line from Oxford to Cambridge.
"Now I want to see how we can expand other parts of the network to help make Britain fit for the future."
Labour dismissed the plans on Tuesday as “unambitious,” with shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald describing the proposals as "more jam tomorrow from a Government which has run out of ideas."
"The Tories' record is of delayed, downgraded and cancelled investment, huge disparities in regional transport spending and soaring fares that are pricing passengers off the railway,” he said.
"This unambitious strategy stands in contrast to Labour's plan to upgrade and expand the rail network across the country."