With the number of elephant deaths on rail tracks in north Bengal on the rise, wildlife officials want the railways to divert some trains through the Cooch Behar-Falakata-New Jalpaiguri route instead of the route which passes through 74 km of forest.

Two more elephants were knocked down by trains last week, taking the total number of elephants killed by trains on this route since 2007 to 17, forest department sources said.

Field director of the Buxa Tiger Reserve R. P. Saini told PTI that the Railway should consider diverting some trains through the Cooch Behar-Falakata-New Jalpaiguri route instead of the 168-km-long Alipurduar-New Jalpaiguri route which passes through 74 km of forest which the elephants use for passage.

Divisional Railway Manager of Alipurduar S Singh said the Garopara level crossing, near Kalchini, where an elephant was killed last week, was outside the elephant zone and there was no question of trains maintaining a speed limit of 20 km per hour.

Describing the incident as unfortunate, he said that train drivers always follow restrictions in specified places.

Mr. Saini said they had taken up the issue with the Railways regularly and perhaps as a consequence of it, engine drivers were given training. However, restriction on the speed and number of night trains was necessary, he said.

Chief Conservator of Forest, wildlife (North) S. B. Patel said that an expert committee formed to look into the problem, had recommended restriction of train speed and reduction in the number of night trains on this route since elephant movement was seen mainly at night.

Mr. Patel, who was in the joint team comprising Railways and forest personnel which had inspected the rail tracks criss— crossing the elephant zone, said a report was given to the state’s Chief Wildlife Warden S. B. Mondol for submission to the Union Forest and Environment Ministry.

“There should be some solution to the problem,” he said.

Mr. Patel said that the expert committee had recommended regular interaction with the Railway authorities and reduction of the traffic and speed of train running through the Alipurduar—New Jalpaiguri line besides developing an early warning system to prevent wild animals from coming close to moving train.

Wildlife NGOs in north Bengal have also expressed worry over the death of animals on the railway tracks in Dooars.

“We had repeatedly requested the railway authorities and the forest minister to take steps to stop the killing of wild animals on the tracks. But nothing has been done,” Animesh Bose, programme coordinator of the Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation, said.

Forest department officials said another disturbing aspect was that disturbed by trains the elephant herds were moving southward in the populated area in the foothills leading to frequent man-animal conflict.