Railways Minister Sets Out His Plan

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 new program - unveiled Thursday at a government meeting on railway reform - falls in line with earlier recommendations from the Economic Development and Trade Ministry. The new investment program is expected to be formally approved by the government at a session on January 24. The original plan - drawn up by former Railways Minister Nikolai Aksyonenko - was criticized by the cabinet last month as 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. The reform plan includes privatization of some parts of the ministry's assets. Fadeyev also ordered Railway Ministry officials to draw up measures to restructure the ministry's debts to regional and federal budgets and to slap tougher controls over its investment programs and to make sure that railroads were not overstaffed. In addition to the debt, investment and staffing issues, Fadeyev ordered a 15-percent hike in wages for railroad employees, the St. Petersburg Times reported.