Friday, August 5, 2016

‘Death on track a challenge’

Naresh Lalwani


In the wake of a train knocking down yet another elephant in Coimbatore, Naresh Lalwani , Divisional Railway Manager (DRM), Palakkad Division of Southern Railway, speaks to V.S. Palaniappan about the steps taken and measures to be initiated to prevent such tragedies on the Podanur-Walayar track.

How do you look at the increasing incidence of elephants getting killed on the railway track?

The incidents of elephants getting killed on tracks is proving to be peculiar and challenging to the Palakkad Division of Southern Railway, especially on the 16.25-km stretch of A line (track A) and 18 km of B line (track B) between Podanur in Tamil Nadu and Palakkad in Kerala. Since 1978, there had been a total of 12 accidents resulting in the death of 17 elephants till date. Elephant deaths were reported in November 2006, September 2007, February 2008, June 2009, July 2009 (two cases), and August 2010. Three incidents were reported this year — June 20, July 9 and July 29. All these were between June and November, considered the migratory season for pachyderms.

What does the analysis of statistics on the death of jumbos indicate? Is poor visibility a cause of such accidents?

Elephants get hit only between dawn and dusk. Only on July 29, the incident took place after dawn. It is not a question of visibility that has led to such tragedies. Accidents had mainly taken place either at curves or in cuttings (in a low lying stretch of land with higher embankments on either side of the track). Hence, inadequate lighting cannot be a reason. Also, the headlights of locomotives are powerful enough to spot an elephant.

What are the measures put in place to prevent recurrence of such incidents?

After an elephant was run over by a train in 2010, a slew of measures were introduced and many of them were stepped up in 2013. There had been no instances of elephant deaths on the track between 2010 and 2015. Acting on the Wildlife Trust of India report on ‘Deadly Tracks’, the Palghat Division imposed a speed restriction of 45 kmph on the vulnerable section between 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Open line patrolling by two teams to alert the nearest stations on the movement of elephants, continuous whistling while crossing vulnerable sections and clearing of vegetation on either side of the track for enhancing visibility for the loco pilot are some of the measures taken and they are being fine tuned and improved upon periodically after meetings with the Forest Departments of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. There were four or five instances of patrolling team alerting on movement of elephants and Kerala’s Rapid Response Teams immediately chasing them away and alerting loco pilots to slow down.

Is it feasible to reduce the train speed further?

On an average, the section handles 30 to 38 pairs of passenger trains, weekly, bi-weekly, tri-weekly and special trains, besides goods trains. Given the traffic density, reducing the speed will adversely impact the operational efficiency.

What are the other likely solutions?

Our concern to save jumbos is reflected in the number of meetings we have had with Forest Department officials of both the States, especially with officers in the ranks of Conservator of Forests.

All short-term solutions without any major financial implications have already been implemented such as slowing the speed, line patrolling, whistling and providing solar-powered lights at curves and cuttings. However, though there are financial implications, the

Would the commissioning of the Podanur–Pollachi section under gauge conversion be a solution? There is a view that diverting some trains to ease congestion on this section and reducing the speed could help.

Railway Division is pursuing long-term solutions such as erecting fences and constructing underpasses.

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