No measure to curb elephant deaths on track

No measure to curb elephant deaths on track

Imposition of speed limit on trains or building elevated tracks over elephant movement corridors for eliminating possibility of the pachyderms getting killed by speeding trains would not be feasible, the Railways has told the Supreme Court.

In an affidavit, the Railway Ministry submitted that a 168-km stretch passes through the north Bengal forest areas, which have the highest concentration of wild elephants. The 168-km-long railway alignment between Alipurduar and Siliguri via Hasimara passes, has already got speed restrictions spread over in as much as 95.3 km, it said.

The ministry said it is practically impossible to impose the speed restriction of 50 km per hour on extended portions of railway tracks as it will impair train punctuality.

Speed restriction on the entire stretch will also reduce the number of trains to less than 10 each way from 19 trains, it said. With regard to the suggestion of cancelling goods trains at night, it said the step would affect the economy of the north-eastern states and those trains, if stopped at night, would also be susceptible to theft.

The ministry also rejected the plea for the construction of elevated tracks over the stretch of 168 km in view of tremendous cost. “Construction of elevated tracks over the entire stretch will have huge cost implications (Rs 8,000 crore). Even the cost of laying elevated corridor in the reserve forest area covering a length of 17.4 km will be exorbitantly high apart from causing continuous disturbances to the wildlife for an extended period,” it said.

The ministry was responding to the direction given by the Supreme Court on December 10 to ensure that the speed of trains was lowered and goods trains were stopped at night while passing through elephant corridors in order to protect the pachyderms. The court’s directions had come while hearing a PIL filed by journalist Shakti Prasad Nayak.

The ministry maintained that a singular strategy is not feasible and the solution must be region-specific depending on factors like topography, wildlife density and other factors.
“Imposition of speed restriction or provisions of underpasses or fencing of Railway lines is not a panacea for the problem,” it said.

The railways has 64,600 route km of tracks as on March 31, 2012. Many tracks of approximately 1,539 route km pass through reserve forests, it said. In its earlier affidavit, the ministry said it was working on developing an electronic intelligent surveillance system that alerts a control room on an elephant coming near the tracks. As many as 77 pachyderms died since 2007 after being hit by speeding trains.

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