The laying of railway tracks is considered crucial to the economic development of a region, and has for the past several centuries been actively encouraged. Being human-centric, political thought has always considered the felling of forests, and clearing of lands to lay railway lines. Technology improvements that allow for ecological considerations are not implemented, and less-than-ideal practices are often followed to this day. In this regard, even the widening of the track gauges can have an adverse effect on ecology.
Railway tracks contribute to the onslaught on wildlife in more ways than the most direct one, which is, of course, having animals killed and maimed by trains. Every kind of animal — including elephant, tiger, lion — have been mowed down by trains on Indian tracks. Habitat loss and fragmentation, increased developmental, tourist and hunting pressures, and increased pollution (especially with plastic throwaways) are some of the other factors.
The need to improve our safety record in protecting our wildlife on, and around, the railway network needs to be improved. A relevant must read on the subject is the background paper on Linear Intrusions for the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL).
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Railway lines divide the tiny Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary in Assam, stranding a single group of gibbons in the smaller fragment and forcing other primates like this capped langur to descend to the ground in order to cross to the other patch. Image: Uddipana Kalita
A Ranthambore tiger, popularly known as "Broken Tail" died in a train accident on July 15, 2003 in Dara, near Kota, almost 200 kms away from its home. Image: Rajasthan FD
High-speed railways are increasingly cutting through prime elephant habitat, with fatal consequences. The Elephant Task Force reports that since 1987, 150 elephants have died due to train hits and the toll keeps rising. Image: M S Anantharaj
Railway lines are linear intrusions, and like roads, cause a multiplicity of ecological problems that deserve attention besides direct mortality of wildlife. Here a chital herd crosses a railway track in Gir National Park. Image: Shivang Mehta
A metre gauge railway track cuts through prime lion habitat in Gir National Park. Image: Giri Cavale
The death of smaller creatures, of course, is often not taken into reckoning at all, but this image of a snake killed on a track illustrates that it is not only just large mammals that are put to risk by the railway lines. Image: Anjali Anatharam
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Railway tracks contribute to the onslaught on wildlife in more ways than the most direct one, which is, of course, having animals killed and maimed by trains.