Construction work on the Midland Metro extension through Birmingham city centre will not begin for another four years at least and the new system is unlikely to be up and running until 2014, it was claimed last night.
Len Clark, Birmingham City Council's lead member on Centro-PTA, the passenger transport authority, said the Government had "shunted the metro into the sidings" and he urged local authorities and the business community to step up pressure for an earlier start date.
Transport Minister Tom Harris told MPs last month that no decision about funding the city centre and Black Country Metro extensions, at a total cost of £409 million, would be made until the end of 2008.
Coun Clark (Con Quinton) said: "We then have to go out to tender, and that will be a two year process. So the earliest construction could start is 2010, assuming that the Government reaches a favourable funding decision by the end of 2008."
He pointed out that the metro construction costs would swallow up almost half of the Government's £1 billion Transport Innovation Fund. There had to be a question mark over whether the Minister would be prepared to earmark so much of the TIF on one project.
Coun Clark added: "I have grave concerns about whether we are going to make progress and whether the Government will give us the necessary support. The metro extension is stuck in the sidings. That is the political reality.
"I would urge all business interests and local authorities to apply maximum pressure on the Department for Transport to give appropriate and urgent consideration to this project."
Coun Clark said he hoped the metro costs could be treated by the Government in the same way as the £500 million New Street Station redevelopment - a one-off project which is likely to fall outside of the TIF.
His comments came as it emerged the city council and Centro-PTA have settled a three-year impasse by reaching agreement on who meets the cost of complementary highway measures - road alterations required to deal with traffic displaced from the metro route. But the council is continuing to predict that the project will come under severe financial pressure.
Predictions of an operating surplus for the metro extension "may be optimistic" according to a cabinet report.
The seven West Midlands district councils may have to find an additional £1 million a year to balance the metro's books.