Monday, December 31, 2012

Lifeline express crushes 6 elephants

A dead elephant lies by the railway tracks. Picture by Gopal Krishna Reddy
Dec. 30: Six elephants were mowed down and a train attendant was hurled to death when the Chennai-bound Coromandel Express ploughed into a herd in Odisha at 110km per hour, far above the speed limit prescribed for migration corridors.
The Howrah-originated train, eastern India’s most dependable lifeline to healthcare facilities in the south, left behind a gut-wrenching trail at Ganjam district last night, dragging a pregnant elephant for half a kilometre and ripping out its two-month-old foetus.
The dead elephants were a tusker aged 25 to 30, three female elephants aged between 45 and 47, and two babies.
The tragedy has again brought to the fore the man-animal conflict and raised questions about the efficacy of the warning systems.
Odisha forest officials said they had warned the railways of the presence of the elephants in the vicinity. But the time cited by the utility suggested a barely two-minute window between the alert and the crash.
Officials said Ranjit Jena, 24, a contractual attendant for the B1 and B2 air-conditioned coaches, died after he was probably thrown off the train while leaning out to find out the reason for the commotion. The impact of the crash would have been spread over time as the train hit the elephants one after the other, a railway official said in Calcutta.
Passengers too felt a “heavy jerk” but there was no injury, an official said. “If a train hits a single elephant, there is not much damage to the train. However, in this case, the train hit six elephants while running at a high speed. At such a high speed, there was a chance of derailment. The higher the speed, the greater the danger.”
Forest officials blamed the train’s speed. “Railway tracks cut through the migration corridor. It is one of the most perilous tracks for wild elephants. We have placed 10 signboards saying ‘Elephant Crossing Zone’ along the tracks to remind train drivers that they are supposed to keep the speed below 20kmph in this zone. But Coromandel’s speed was 110kmph at that time,” said Sudhansu Mishra, the Berhampur divisional forest officer.
The crash spot is around 40km from Berhampur.
Mishra said the railways were alerted in advance. “The ranger of the Chilika wildlife division, P.C. Guru, had informed the railway control room of the movement of the elephants in the area on Saturday night before the accident and requested the authority to instruct all drivers to move slowly.”
But R.N. Mohapatra, the chief public relations officer of East Coast Railway, said: “We received the information at 12.43am. The accident had already taken place.”
State officials said the crash took place around 12.45am — minutes after the time at which the railways claimed they were informed.

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