India’s semi high-speed train breaks down a day after its launch

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) gets off a tain carriage during the flag off India's first engineless train Vande Bharat Express at New Delhi Railway station on February 15, 2019. (AFP)
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India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi flags off India's fastest train 'Vande Bharat Express' at a ceremony in New Delhi, India, February 15, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 16 February 2019
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India’s semi high-speed train breaks down a day after its launch

  • Cattle obstructions on roads and rail tracks are common in India, particularly in Uttar Pradesh state where Saturday’s collision happened
  • Since coming to office, Modi’s nationalist party launched a crackdown on the slaughter of cows — considered sacred by many Hindus — which has led to crisis numbers of stray and unwanted cattle in the state

NEW DELHI: India’s first semi-high speed train broke down Saturday after colliding with a cow on the tracks, a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the new passenger service.
The Vande Bharat Express, touted as India’s fastest train and built under the Modi government’s flagship “Make in India” program, made its first journey Friday from New Delhi to the Hindu holy city of Varanasi.
But on its return to the capital the next day a collision with a cow disrupted electricity supply to four carriages and damaged the brake system, according to Indian Railways.
“The train later experienced technical issues and was stranded on the way to Delhi,” Indian Railways spokeswoman Smita Vats Sharma told AFP.
The train reached the capital “safely” ahead of its first commercial journey on Sunday, she added.
Cattle obstructions on roads and rail tracks are common in India, particularly in Uttar Pradesh state where Saturday’s collision happened.
Since coming to office, Modi’s nationalist party launched a crackdown on the slaughter of cows — considered sacred by many Hindus — which has led to crisis numbers of stray and unwanted cattle in the state.
India is struggling to upgrade its colonial-era railway system, which relies on creaking and outdated infrastructure to transport 23 million travelers each day.
The locally-made express train has a rated top speed of 180 kilometers (111 miles) an hour, 20 percent quicker than the next fastest train in service.
Railway authorities say the train is expected to reduce the 850-kilometer journey between the two cities from 14 to eight hours.
Saturday’s accident is the latest controversy for the express train — a pet project of Modi’s government, which has vowed to debut India’s first bullet train in 2022.
Last week India’s rail minister Piyush Goyal was left red-faced after he tweeted a digitally altered video of the train zipping by a station at lightning speed.
He was later accused of altering the video to make the train appear faster, triggering widespread social media ridicule.


Pentagon authorizes $1bn for Trump’s border wall

Updated 21 min 32 sec ago
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Pentagon authorizes $1bn for Trump’s border wall

  • The wall will run for 92 kilometres with 5.5-meter fencing
  • Acting defense secretary said federal law allows the Pentagon to build infrastructure on the US border

WASHINGTON: Acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan has authorized $1 billion to build part of the wall sought by Donald Trump along the US-Mexico border, the first funds designated for the project under the president’s emergency declaration.
The Department of Homeland Security asked the Pentagon to build 92 kilometres of 5.5-meter fencing, construct and improve roads, and install lighting to support Trump’s emergency declaration.
Shanahan “authorized the commander of the US Army Corps of Engineers to begin planning and executing up to $1 billion in support to the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Patrol,” a Pentagon statement issued late Monday read.
The acting defense secretary cited a federal law that he said gives the Pentagon broad authority to build infrastructure “across international boundaries of the United States in support of counter-narcotic activities of federal law enforcement agencies.”
The statement was released a day before Shanahan was due to testify in Congress to present and defend the Pentagon’s draft budget.
The White House has laid out an ambitious 2020 budget proposal which contains $8.6 billion in new wall funding, above the $5.7 billion Trump sought for this year.
Frustrated by Congress’s refusal to provide the budget he wanted, Trump declared a national emergency last month.
The White House has signalled it will seek to repurpose some $6 billion from military funds, without specifying which Pentagon programs would be slashed.
The move drew condemnation from both the president’s rival Democrats and fellow Republicans, who warned it was an abuse of presidential powers and created a dangerous precedent.
Trump has made border security an over-arching domestic issue and says it will remain at the centre of the agenda in his 2020 re-election bid.
Although there has been a surge in arrival of families and children at the border, overall apprehensions at the frontier are down substantially from a decade or more ago.
There have also been reported misgivings within the military, including from America’s top marine who last week warned that deployments to the US-Mexico border pose an “unacceptable risk” to the force, according to documents obtained by The Los Angeles Times.
In memos addressed to acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan and Navy secretary Richard Spencer, General Robert Neller wrote that he had been forced to cancel or reduce exercises in five countries.
Neller added the declaration meant the corps could not afford to rebuild hurricane-hit bases in North Carolina and Georgia.
“The hurricane season is only three months away... and we have Marines, Sailors, and civilians working in compromised structures,” Neller wrote.
The declaration has also been challenged by 16 states which sued the administration last month, contending the order was contrary to the constitution’s presentment and appropriations clauses, which outline legislative procedures and define Congress as the final arbiter of public funds.
The lawsuit also questioned Trump’s categorization of illegal border crossings as a national emergency, saying data issued by the administration itself refuted the notion.
Should the states prevail, the case could work its way up to the Supreme Court, setting up a precedent-setting showdown on the separation of powers.