Whatever happened to the Midland Metro extension?
A funny thing happened the other day at the press launch of designs for the ÃÂ£600 million New Street Gateway scheme.
A journalist from a railway magazine decided to ask city council leader Mike Whitby where the Midland Metro tram extension fitted into the glittering new station with its "cathedral-like" atriums and reflective steel cladding.
Whitby didn't answer the question. No surprise there, then. He had been given two or three sound bites to repeat and the Metro wasn't on the list.
Even so, the total absence of the Metro from what is supposed to be the next major stage in an integrated transport policy for Birmingham and the West Midlands spoke volumes.
It is several months now since people close to Whitby leaked information pointing to emasculation of the proposed tram track from Snow Hill to Five Ways via Corporation Street and Broad Street. The council leader and his advisers were looking instead, it was said, at attempting to raise private capital and council cash to pay for a tram line from Snow Hill to New Street and Eastside, with a possible extension in time to Birmingham Airport and the NEC.
The planned section of the Metro from New Street to Five Ways, which the council's controlling Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition was never all that keen on anyway, simply disappeared from view although it remains, in theory, official Centro policy.
The brutal truth is that Government funding for the Birmingham city centre Metro extension is never likely to be forthcoming, particularly in the light of the squeeze on public spending in the run-up to the next General Election. There remains, perhaps, a faint hope that the proposed Black Country extension, which has all-party political support, might go ahead but there is little hope of progress in Birmingham.
Isn't it time for Coun Whitby and his colleagues to be more open and honest about the fate of the Midland Metro?