Hike in railway fares - Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi

Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi is preparing to put on track a slew of measures to kick-start the long-pending modernisation of Indian Railways, even as the move entails the politically sensitive issue of raising fares to generate funds. 

"The coming rail budget exercise is my opportunity to roll out full automation of the Railways and run it professionally like the Delhi Metro," Trivedi, who is readying to present his first rail budget, told ET on Monday, "Obviously, we need resources for this and I will not be found wanting in generating funds, even if that means taking unpopular decisions." 

Two of Trivedi's predecessors, including his leader,Trinamool Congress party chief Mamata Banerjee, refused to bite the bullet, with the result that fares have not been raised since 2002-03 . Banerjee has, in fact, made it clear that her party will not allow any sharp increase in fares. Trivedi may, however, raise fares by including a variable fuel adjustment component, which can be linked to the fluctuating fuel prices. 

This will set in motion a dynamic fare structure and unshackle it from political interference driven by populist concerns. The minister outlined a threepronged strategy to raise resources, including Plan funds, with investment in railways being considered as an infrastructure spend, and public-private partnerships, besides internal generation by the Railways. 

The minister's comments come ahead of a yet-to-be-submitted report of the Sam Pitroda panel on modernisation of railways, which has recommended a one-time hike of 25% in passenger fares and linking of fares to inflation. At the same time, the minister said the common man will still be the focus of his growth-oriented budget.