The north of England "needs transport investment now", the Mayor of Greater Manchester said as northern leaders gather at a transport summit in Leeds.
Andy Burnham said travel times from Greater Manchester to some parts of the north had not improved since the 1960s.
Delegates told the meeting "an outdated, expensive and slow transport system" was holding back growth.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling had called for leaders to "take control" of their own transport networks.
Speaking to a "packed house" of political and business officials at Cloth Hall Court, Mr Burnham said: "It takes four minutes longer to travel by train from Manchester to Chester than it did in 1962.
"I think that pretty much makes for why we are here today."
He described the nation as "London-centric" and "too centralised", saying a partnership with the government was essential and urging it to "play your part of the bargain".
"Because we can't do it on our own. We will do our bit and will get our own act together," he said.
"We will develop a plan. We are going to need your backing to make it real. After all, you did promise us a Northern Powerhouse.
"Help us now make it a reality."
Mr Grayling made his comments in an article in the Yorkshire Post ahead of the conference on Wednesday.
"The success of northern transport depends on the north itself," the transport secretary had said.
'Not a big challenge'
Among the delegates attending the event are leaders of Leeds, Newcastle and Manchester councils, Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram and business representatives.
In a joint statement, northern leaders called for the government to commit to "new investment in modern local infrastructure".
"We believe that people across the north have waited long enough for transport services on a par with other parts of the country. The disparity between transport in the north of England and London must now be addressed."
Former economist Lord Jim O'Neill said: "You can put in a state-of-the-art train system but it won't deliver alone."
"It shouldn't be that big a challenge to put in infrastructure to make urban-based areas [in the north] as big as London."
Organisers have described the summit as an "unprecedented gathering" of council and business leaders who want more investment in local infrastructure.
It follows an announcement from the government last month that it was scrapping the planned electrification of railway lines in Wales, the Midlands and the north of England, which angered authorities and businesses.
Days later, Mr Grayling then backed proposals for Crossrail 2 - a new line linking north-east and south-west London - sparking further fury.