Plans for an extensive system of trams that would revolutionise public transport in Birmingham and the West Midlands were first proposed as long ago as 1986.

Council leaders enthused about a network of lines, stretching out from the centre of Birmingham across the region, which they believed would quickly become a clean, cheap and popular alternative to travelling by car.

Twenty years later only one line exists, although plans for two further routes are with the Government.

The 13-mile route between Wolverhampton and Birmingham was opened by the Princess Royal in 1999, at a cost of #145 million, and now carries more than five million passengers a year.

The passenger transport authority Centro and the region's district councils agonised for months over where Line 1 should run.

Many councillors believed a route from Birmingham city centre to Birmingham International Airport would be preferable, and would certainly be more profitable.

But the Wolverhampton to Birmingham Snow Hill line won the day, partly because it could be built more cheaply on a disused rail line but also because it was thought to provide better opportunities for opening brownfield sites and generating economic development.

The project was hit by funding problems from day one. Private sector backers largely failed to materialise, leaving #135 million of the total cost to come from a mixture of Government, European and council grants.

Late delivery of the Italian-built trams ordered by operators Altram caused a nine-month delay in opening the line. The first years of operation were dogged by mechanical failures.

The service lost #3.7 million in its first 18 months – with much of the loss being put down to unpopular automatic ticket machines and the activities of fare-dodgers.

Meanwhile, Centro awaits a Government decision on the business plans for two Metro extensions.

At a cost of #116 million, the existing line will be extended from Snow Hill through Birmingham city centre to Five Ways. It is proposed that 15 trams an hour will run in the day.

The second element of the expansion, costing more than #300 million, is in the Black Country, from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill.