(CBS) – Metra officials may not want to admit it, but for the second consecutive year, they are looking at a possible fare increase.

The rail agency is eyeing a $713.5 million operating budget that is balanced, but there are potential risks that could throw it out of whack and force an emergency fare hike.

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The risks include a spike in fuel prices, severe snow or heat, a major derailment or a bridge failure. If any of those scenarios occur, Metra would consider a series of increases ranging from 1 percent to 10 percent across the board, or increasing the price of the 10-ride ticket and the monthly pass.

Acting Metra Chairman Larry Huggins said not to assume that an increase is imminent.

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“It is my position as the chairman now not to have a fare increase,” he said.  “What the board is now looking at (is) every possible way for that fare increase not to happen.”

Nonetheless, said Metra spokesman Robert Carlton, riders will be asked to choose their poison at a series of hearings Nov. 1 and 7.  That information will be taken back to Metra directors for their consideration.

Metra’s average 26 percent increase, imposed in February, was the largest increase in the agency’s nearly 40-year history.  At the time, Metra officials said they hoped to settle into a series of small annual increases to keep pace with inflation.

Huggins may not remain acting chairman long enough to see the budget process to its conclusion.  Board members voted Friday on a permanent replacement, but director Brad O’Halloran of Orland Park fell one vote short of the eight needed for election.

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Huggins has been acting chairman since west suburban attorney Carole Doris abruptly resigned from the board last year.