Marcus Dam

Railway authorities asked to keep a check on speed

Three elephants, one bison killed last monthRecommendations for train speed to be reviewedRail tracks cut across wildlife sanctuaries

KOLKATA: Following the death of wild animals knocked down by trains in north Bengal, wildlife officials have asked railway authorities to keep a check on the speed of trains passing through the region.

Last month, three elephants and a bison were killed by speeding trains in three separate incidents. The elephants, including a tusker and a calf, were killed on May 28-29 after they had moved out of the forests.

Another elephant was critically injured.

Speed restrictions

The incidents were the first outside the protected forest areas after a special committee, comprising officials of the railways and the forest department's wildlife wing, had formalised its recommendations in 2003 for speed restrictions for trains.

"There is need for a review of the recommendations since last month's incidents," P. T. Bhutia, Conservator of Forests, Wildlife [North], told The Hindu over telephone from Jalpaiguri in north Bengal.

"We have discussed with the local railway authorities the need for trains to reduce their speed to the lowest possible limit while passing through both the wildlife sanctuaries and the areas that fall in between them, which form part of the elephant corridor, as herds move from one forest to another in search of food," Dr. Bhutia said.

"What the earlier recommendations called for was cautious driving without specifying any particular speed limit."

Train schedule

The matter is likely to be taken up with the railway authorities "at a higher level" as the imposition of any restrictions on speed would necessitate changes in train schedules, he added.

Quest for food

Elephant herds often cross the railway tracks in search of food, especially during the cropping season when they move from the forests to the farmlands where maize and paddy are cultivated.

According to L. G. Lepcha, Field Director, Buxa Tiger Reserve, nearly 43 km of railway tracks cut across the different wildlife sanctuaries in north Bengal.

The elephant population in these forest areas is around 350.

Local committees

"There is need for greater co-ordination between the railways and the local wildlife authorities to prevent trains from knocking down wildlife. We are considering setting up local committees that would monitor the movement of elephant herds and inform the railways," he said.