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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Rail Chief Toes Party Line

Heeding the government's wishes, new Railways Minister Gennady Fadeyev on Thursday distanced himself from his disgraced predecessor's ambitious $5.25 billion investment program for 2002, agreeing to slash it by 40 percent.

The program -- unveiled Thursday at a government meeting on rail reform -- falls in line with earlier recommendations from the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, which suggested dropping some of the more expensive projects, Interfax reported.

The new investment program is expected to be formally approved by the government at a session Jan. 24.

The original plan -- drawn up by former Railways Minister Nikolai Aksyonenko -- was criticized by the Cabinet last month for being unrealistic.

Aksyonenko's plan, among other things, envisioned the construction of a multibillion-dollar bridge from the Far East mainland to the island of Sakhalin. As of Thursday, the Sakhalin link, along with a number of other high-cost projects, was scratched from the ministry's 2002 budget.

President Vladimir Putin fired Aksyonenko last week. In October, he was charged with abuse of office, accused of misappropriating 70 million rubles ($2.33 million) in ministry funds. An investigation into the case is ongoing.

Fadeyev said that even after scrapping the previous program's more far-fetched ideas, there are still projects for which funding has yet to be found -- and the ministry does not plan to borrow any money. The investment program is to be financed entirely from the ministry's own coffers.

Fadeyev, who officially took office Tuesday, has so far shown indications he is serious about turning the giant ministry around. The day he began work, Fadeyev held a meeting with all of the ministry's divisions, ordering a list of corrections to Aksyonenko's policies in an effort to restructure ministry debt and cut down on spending.

On Thursday, the government commission also approved three draft laws that, if passed by the State Duma, would allow the ministry's reform plan to be implemented, Fadeyev said.

The reform plan includes privatization of some parts of the ministry's assets.

The draft laws dealing with privatization are incomplete.

"Only one question remains: Who is to control the infrastructure?" Interfax quoted Fadeyev as saying.

The issue is complicated by the fact that Russia's railroads are closely involved in the country's defense system, and any key control decisions should be agreed upon with the military.

Fadeyev said he hoped the draft laws would reach the Duma in the autumn.

Fadeyev also said that a new hike approved by the Federal Energy Commission this week for passenger and cargo tariffs -- 30 percent and 14 percent, respectively -- is unlikely to be the last rate increase for 2002.

The hikes are inevitable steps taken to sustain the ministry's economic viability, Fadeyev said.