Guwahati: The Indian Railways has imposed speed restrictions of 30kmph to 50kmph along several stretches of tracks in the Northeast to treat a jumbo-sized problem — speeding trains crashing into elephants.
The Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR), which controls tracks in areas having the densest elephant population between Siliguri in West Bengal to deep inside eastern Assam, has identified stretches with a combined length of 207km where trains will slow down, according to officials familiar with the developments.
Railway data shows that 70 elephants have died after being hit by trains since 2013. NFR and the forest department records say train-hits killed 16 elephants in 2016, and at least a dozen last year. Four elephants were killed when a passenger train hit a herd crossing the tracks in central Assam this February, the worst tragedy after five elephants, including a pregnant female, died in similar circumstances last December.
Also, the NFR is testing since last year a device near tracks that amplifies the buzz of swarming honeybees. Elephants are said to be afraid of bees, particularly of being stung on the sensitive trunk, and railway officials hope the sound of the stinging insects will stop the animals in their tracks.
In 2017, 12 elephants were killed in train mishaps, while in 2016, the number was 16. Deaths have increased sharply – between 1987 and 2010, a period of 23 years, 150 elephants had died while crossing railway tracks, but the figure touched 120 between 2009 and 2017, just 8 years.
The reasons behind this are several: constantly increasing human population, habitat destruction, increased frequency of fast trains, and probably the most important – neglect on part of authorities.