Indian Railways posts record 6.3-billion-dollar surplus

NEW DELHI, Feb 26, 2008 (AFP) – Giant state-run Indian Railways, once on track for bankruptcy, posted a record 6.3-billion-dollar surplus on Tuesday, announced new lines and cut fares in a populist budget with elections looming. “The world today acknowledges I’ve done a tremendous job,” said the wisecracking Railways Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, presenting his fifth railway budget since the Congress-led coalition government took office in 2004.

The railway budget for the fiscal year to March 2009 is seen as a harbinger of the national budget, which comes on Friday and is the last expected to be presented before the next general elections due within 12 to 15 months.

The charismatic minister, known for his self-congratulatory style, said the railway would post a record cash surplus of 250 billion rupees or 6.3 billion dollars this year, up from a 4.4 billion dollar surplus the previous year.

The surplus, helped by higher freight traffic in a booming economy, came after experts warned in 2001 the Victorian-era railway was mired in a “terminal debt trap” and faced bankruptcy.

Yadav presented what the media dubbed a “please-all” budget with steps to boost freight operations, cut freight and passenger fares and impro