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Loco pilots turn saviours as jumbos amble across track

Phone camera image shows the animals after they had crossed.

Phone camera image shows the animals after they had crossed.  

Narrow escape for the herd in northern West Bengal

Amar Nath Bhagat and Pawan Kumar have done what many train locomotive pilots often cannot — stop the train for as long as elephants take to cross the track.

Mr. Bhagat, a loco pilot of the Bamanhat-Siliguri Jn. passenger train applied the brakes after spotting a herd of elephants close to the track between Sivok and Gumla stations in northern West Bengal on August 24 evening.

The section comes under the Alipurduar Division of Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR), headquartered in Guwahati’s Maligaon.

“My assistant [Mr. Kumar] spotted the elephants at about 5.35 p.m. The elephants were not visible from my side of the locomotive because of a bend in the track. I braked as soon as he shouted out,” Mr. Bhagat told The Hindu.

The elephants, barely 250 metres away from the locomotive, had taken time because of three adventurous calves. “We waited a little more than 10 minutes for them to cross and disappear into the trees,” the loco pilot said.

The passenger train, moving at about 25 kmph, stopped 10 metres from the point where the brakes were applied. A loaded goods train would have stopped closer to the elephants, Mr. Bhagat said.

The drivers’ decision to stop the train for the elephants has not gone unnoticed. NFR officials said they deserve a commendation.

“Such alert loco pilots help improve the image of the railways, particularly the NFR that has many elephant corridors,” NFR spokesperson Pranav Jyoti Sharma said.

29 elephant corridors

NFR’s tracks cut through 29 notified elephant corridors, many of them in the Dooars region of northern Bengal, where train hits killed at least 30 elephants in five years till December 2017.

According to ‘Rights of Passage’, a 2017 study by Wildlife Trust of India, Project Elephant and UK-based NGO Elephant Family, the jumbos regularly use 86% of the corridors of northern West Bengal and 66% of those in the northeast. The study said the elephant habitat is about 2,200 sq. km. of the forest area of 3,051 sq. km. in northern West Bengal, straddling terai, western and eastern Dooars.

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Printable version | Jun 4, 2020 6:00:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/loco-pilots-turn-saviours-as-jumbos-amble-across-track/article24786930.ece

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