A key agreement to extend the Midland Metro tram network will be reached today.
Funding, construction, operation and maintenance details of the £200 million Wednesbury to Brierley Hill extension project have now been formally agreed with Dudley Borough Council.
The seven mile tram line has already been given a provisional green light by the Government but must now wait until a similar agreement is reached with Birmingham City Council over the city centre extension before both schemes are sent to the Department for Transport for final funding approval.
Coun Roger Horton, from the West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority, which sets policy for executive Centro, said: "Signing this major agreement with Dudley cements the determination of both parties to deliver this important transport and regeneration project scheme to people in the Black Country as soon as possible."
One aspect of the agreement concerns Dudley Council's role as the local highway and planning authority.
For example, a 'design guide' has been approved to smooth the way for detailed aspects of the tram stops to receive planning permission.
"Removing as much risk and uncertainty as possible at this stage of the project will help is to keep the construction price lower and make sure everyone gets value for money," added Coun Horton (Lab Soho and Victoria).
The tramlines will run from Wednesbury, through Dudley and Merry Hill, to Brierley Hill with 13 easy-access stops, four of which are served by park and ride facilities.
New larger trams will be introduced on the line and will be able to complete the journey in only 23 minutes.
It is hoped the service will be up and running in 2011.
"This Metro extension running up through Castle Hill, Dudley and Brierley Hill is a very exciting prospect for local people," said Coun David Caunt (Con Sedgley), leader of Dudley Council.
"The extended line will not only make travelling around the area much easier and more convenient for everyone, providing an attractive alternative to the car, but it will also bring regeneration, jobs and other socio-economic benefits to this part of the the Black Country.
"I am extremely pleased to be signing this agreement with Centro, which brings such an important project even closer to reality."
There is doubt over how favourably the Government will look on the schemes, however. Three-quarters of the cost of both metro extensions would come from the DfT, which has recently gone cold on a number of tram schemes.
Overall cost of the two schemes, which have been planned for almost a decade, has spiralled by 74 per cent to £369 million in the past three years.