WEST MIDLANDS transport chiefs this week voted to plough ahead with a £570M extension to the Midland Metro even though the project faces an uphill battle for government approval.
Transport secretary Alistair Darling has recently tightened up the financial appraisal of tram schemes following financial problems with projects in Croydon and Nottingham.
Darling has promised £400M of central government funds for the Midlands scheme, but only if it can demonstrate a benefit to cost ratio (BCR) of 1.5.
The scheme was initially conceived when a BCR of 1.0 would have attracted funding.
Achieving 1.5 has been made even harder by an increase in the 'optimism bias' that must be added on to publicly funded schemes to allow for cost overruns.
The policy-setting West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority gave its approval to further develop the scheme on Monday after a vote by member local authority representatives.
It predicts that around 25M passengers would use the expanded Midland Metro, drawing as many as a quarter of rush hour motorists out of their cars.
The scheme would offer substantial economic regeneration and social benefits, but the government does not allow these to be added in to the justification.
The first phase would provide new lines from Wolverhampton to Walsall; from Quinton along the Hagley Road through Birmingham city centre to Eastside;
and north from Birmingham along the A34 to Great Barr.
It is hoped trams will start running from 2011.