Peter Cushing will be Metrolink's new director following Philip Purdy's decision to return to his native Australia in spring.
Cushing will succeed Purdy in February, after members of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority formally ratified Transport for Greater Manchester's appointment.
Cushing is credited for rejuvenating Central Trains whilst he was operations director between March 2003 and January 2005, and was part of the team involved in the DfT's remapping of the heavy rail network that saw the creation of the East Midlands Trains, London Midland and Cross Country franchises.
He has also worked on several rail franchise bids, winning three.
In recent years, Cushing has worked with TfGM's Metrolink team on a long-term but interim basis, overseeing existing day-to-day operations during the current £1.4bn expansion programme.
He will formally take up the role of director from 4 February, ahead of Philip returning to Australia for family reasons.
Cllr Andrew Fender, chairman of the TfGM committee, said: "Peter's appointment puts Metrolink in very capable hands. He is thought of very highly within the industry and brings a great deal of experience to the role.
"In recent years he has been supporting the existing team and has built up a thorough understanding of the network.
"In welcoming Peter, we have to bid farewell to Philip who has steered Metrolink through the most challenging period in its history with grace, professionalism and absolute dedication. We wish him and his family the very best for the future."
Peter Cushing said: "The Metrolink network will soon become the biggest light rail system in the country and, as part of that, is undergoing the most significant change in its history.
"In 1992, Metrolink consisted of 30km of track, 27 stops, 26 trams and one depot. We will soon have an entirely new fleet of 94 trams, two depots and a network covering 97km of track and 99 stops.
"A project of this magnitude, on an existing, well-established and well-used network, is going to come with some growing pains and teething problems. How we work through those inevitable issues is crucial.
"For me, the aim is to continue the fantastic work Philip and his team have done in very challenging circumstances, managing the delivery of the expansion at the same time as running an effective day-to-day operation."