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France to run driver-less mainline trains within five years

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PARIS: French railway operator SNCF said Wednesday it was planning to introduce prototypes of driverless mainline trains for passengers and freight by 2023, and include them in scheduled services in subsequent years.
“With autonomous trains, all the trains will run in a harmonized way and at the same speed,” SNCF chairman Guillaume Pepy said in a statement. “The train system will become more fluid.”
The operator hopes that the switch will allow it to run more trains on France’s busiest mainlines, and cut energy consumption. Many cities, including Paris, already run driverless metro trains but driverless long-distance travel presents a new set of challenges, Pepy said.
“Railways are an open system, and the unexpected is the rule,” Pepy said. SNCF will be partnering up with rolling stock specialists Alstom and Bombardier who will each be heading up consortia for freight and passenger traffic, respectively.
The shift to driverless trains is to happen in stages, Pierre Izard, who runs SNCF’s rail technologies division, told AFP, “up to the most extreme of automatisation, when there is no human presence onboard”.
automatization autonomous trains “are clearly the future”, but he also said it may take time before passengers accept boarding driverless trains.
Although Australia, China and Japan are already experimenting with driverless trains, France is not coming too late to the game, said Carole Desnost, head of innovation at SNCF.
SNCF said it was talking to German operator Deutsche Bahn about promoting a European standard for driverless trains.

 

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Europe

Russia fails to block chemical arms body’s new powers

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THE HAGUE” Russia failed on Tuesday in its bid to stall the global chemical warfare watchdog’s controversial new power to apportion blame for attacks like those in Syria.
After a bitter war of words, states approved the 2019 budget for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which includes funding for the new role.
They also shot down a proposal by Russia and China to set up an “expert group” which the West said would have effectively blocked the new powers.
In June the OPCW approved a British-backed move to allow the body to attribute blame for chemical attacks. Previously it could only confirm whether or not toxic arms had been used.
“A clear majority against an attempt to wreck the historic June decision,” British ambassador to the OPCW Peter Wilson said on Twitter. “An overwhelming result, which clearly says #NoToChemicalWeapons.”
Applause broke out at the meeting in The Hague after member states voted 99 to 27 in favor of the 2019 budget.
It was the first time the OPCW had ever voted on the budget, after Russia and Iran, which both oppose the new attribution powers, insisted on a vote.
The OPCW also voted 82-30 against Russia’s joint plan with China to set up an “open-ended” group to scrutinize how the new powers would work.
Iran, Syria, Pakistan, South Africa, Palestine, and Cuba were among those that backed Russia.
The West pushed through the new blaming powers after a string of chemical incidents in Syria, as well as a nerve agent attack on Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal in the British city of Salisbury in March.
The OPCW says it aims to set up a team early next year that could attribute blame for all chemical attacks in Syria since 2013.
It will also be allowed to point the finger for attacks elsewhere if asked to by the country where the incident happened.
Britain and the United States had accused their rivals of trying to effectively reverse the earlier change to the watchdog’s rules.
Russia and the West traded bitter accusations of lying and hypocrisy on Monday as the OPCW debated the issue.
Russian envoy Alexander Shulgin said Western claims of chemical weapons use by Damascus and Moscow were “out and out lies” and said the new powers were “illegitimate”.
US Ambassador Kenneth Ward, however, accused Russia of “pungent hypocrisy” and warned against allowing a “new era of chemical weapons use to take hold.”
The meeting also took place under the shadow of the expulsion of four Russians accused by Dutch authorities of trying to hack into the OPCW’s computer system in April.
The alleged Russian agents from the GRU military intelligence agency used electronic equipment hidden in a car parked outside a nearby hotel, the Netherlands said.
At the time the organization was investigating the attack on Skripal as well as a major chemical attack in Syria. The spying incident is not on this meeting’s agenda, however.
Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013, the OPCW was set up by the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention under which almost every country in the world pledged to give up toxic arms.
The OPCW says it has overseen the destruction of 96.5 percent of the world’s chemical arms stocks.

 

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Economy

EasyJet logs soaring annual profit

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LONDON: EasyJet’s annual net profit jumped by almost a fifth on strong sales and record passenger numbers, the British no-frills airline announced today. 
Profits after taxation jumped 17 percent to £385 million ($460 million, 400 million euros) in the 12 months to September, EasyJet said in a statement. The total number of passengers rose 10.2 percent to a record high of 88.5 million. Pre-tax profit surged 41.4 percent to £578 million, as revenues rose 17 percent to £5.9 billion. The carrier made a smaller-than-expected loss on its purchase of Berlin’s Tegel Airport from bankrupt German carrier Air Berlin. “EasyJet has delivered a great performance during the year,” said chief executive Johan Lundgren, who has been in the job since last December.
“Our financial success and increasing customer loyalty demonstrate the resilience of our operations, the underlying strength of our business and our unrivaled customer experience,” EasyJet added that it was continuing to prepare for Brexit, operating via three airline divisions based in Austria, Britain, and Switzerland, in order to be able to continue flying in Europe.
It expressed confidence that flying rights would continue as normal despite turbulence over Brexit talks. “Both the EU and the UK have said that their objective is to maintain flights between the EU and the UK, whatever the Brexit outcome,” the group said. “This gives EasyJet confidence that flying rights will be maintained, and it continues to work with EU institutions, EU member states, and the UK to ensure that this is achieved.”

 

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France: Yellow Vest protests persist

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PARIS: Protesters angry over high fuel prices blocked access to French fuel depots and stopped traffic on major roads Monday, incensed by the government’s refusal to scrap anti-pollution taxes.
One person was accidentally killed and 511 people injured, 17 seriously, during three days of “Yellow Vest” protests that have galvanized resistance to President Emmanuel Macron’s economic policies.
On Monday, tens of thousands of demonstrators were still manning hundreds of barricades on motorways and petrol stations, down from nearly 300,000 protesters at over 2,000 sites on Saturday.
Oil giant Total confirmed that some of its trucks had been prevented from reaching depots in the south and east of the country, causing alarm among small business owners.
“The worst thing would be to block the economy and make the whole situation worse,” Alain Griset, head of the U2P federation of small and medium-sized businesses said in a statement.
On Monday, security forces cleared protesters from several sites, including a suspension bridge leading to the south-western city of Bordeaux that had been blocked for three days.
The “Yellow Vest” movement — named after the high-visibility vests motorists are required to carry in their cars — was sparked by rising diesel prices, which many blame on taxes implemented in recent years as part of France’s anti-pollution fight.
It quickly snowballed into a protest by rural and small-town France over falling spending power of the less well-off under President Emmanuel Macron, assailed as a “president of the rich.”
“It’s about much more than fuel. They (the government) have left us with nothing,” Dominique, a 50-year-old unemployed technician told AFP at a roadblock in the town of Martigues, near the southern city of Marseille.
Macron’s government, which is trying to buff its environmental credentials, has vowed not to back down on trying to wean people off their cars through fuel taxes.
Speaking during a visit to China Environment Minister Francois de Rugy ruled out canceling planned increases on hydrocarbons “at the first sign of difficulty”.
While the number of protesters has fallen since the weekend, in tandem with plummeting temperatures, further large-scale demonstrations are planned.
Two separate calls for mass protests in Paris on November 24 were widely circulated on social media.
The start of the protests was marred by the death of a 63-year-old demonstrator, who was run down by a panicked motorist at a roadblock in the eastern Savoie region.
Several other people were injured in attempts by truck drivers and motorists to force their way through barricades.

 

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