Kharge told the Lok Sabha, India's lower house of parliament, that Indian Railways' proposal to obtain foreign investment to fund high-speed and semi-high-speed (160-200km/h) rail projects is likely to be approved shortly by the cabinet.

Kharge reiterated that concrete progress on the Mumbai - Ahmedabad high-speed project is likely after the completion of the Jica-sponsored survey. Semi-high-speed services are planned on the Delhi - Agra and Delhi - Chandigarh lines. "Our plans are to make one of these routes operational by the year end," IR's chairman Mr Arunendra Kumar said later.

The railways minister emphasised the need to continue reforms initiated by the ruling coalition. He said the Rail Tariff Authority (RTA) would shortly become operational. He also announced plans to run 17 premier trains using the so-called dynamic pricing model akin to that used by airlines and introduce 72 new train services.

IR's financial performance is a continuing cause for concern. Its operating ratio climbed three percentage points from 87.8% to 90.8% for the current financial year. IR has suffered a substantial reduction in passenger revenue, while fuel costs have spiralled. As a result of a shortfall in earnings, the ministry's planned outlay for the current financial year has been cut by almost Rs 40bn from Rs 633bn to Rs 593bn.

A new government will assume office in India in May following national elections, when a full railway budget will be presented.