The Railways and the Wildlife officials of both the West Bengal government and Centre today unanimously agreed to declare the entire 164-km stretch between Siliguri and Alipurdiar on the North East Frontier Railway as an “elephant corridor” and put a speed restriction of 45 kmph on all the trains – day and night.
Both the sides formulated and agreed on a number of other steps to prevent recurrence of such animal dashing by speeding trains, official sources said.
On Wednesday night as many as seven elephants were knocked dead by a speeding goods train at Moraghat on this stretch.
Apparently, the Railway Board, as directed by Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, sent an advisory to the railway officials in North Bengal to enforce the speed restrictions and also ensure that the drivers running trains on this stretch are vigilant enough to prevent a recurrence.
The railway and forest officials met at Gorumara forest bungalow in North Bengal and decided to take the following steps:
- At least 30 km of the 164 km stretch which has been declared as an elephant corridor was earmarked as “highly sensitive” and frequent animal crossing point.
- Watch towers would be erected on these stretches which will be manned by forest departmetn staff, particularly in paddy flowering season. Monitoring will be done on movement of elephants from the watch towers with search lights and accordingly the railway staff and officials would be informed. A feasibility study in this regard has already been conducted by the railways and the estimates pegged at Rs 7.3 crore. The union forest and environment ministry will be the implementing agency for this.
- The railway officials agreed to sensitise the drivers and assistant drivers running goods and passenger trains on this stretch and decided to hold training programme for them at regular intervals where forest department officials would intimate them about wildlife movement patterns. The railway also suggested to the forest officials that the railway staff and drivers have sighted wildlives on as many as 158 occasion in this stretch in the recent past and the forest department should make use of this databank for analyzing the animal and elephant movement pattern in the region.
- It was also agreed upon to have several underpasses, particularly at corridors to allow wild animals, particularly elephants to take cover when any train arrives or intrudes suddenly.
- The forest department agreed to use elephant trackers to monitor the movement of elephants and provide round the clock feed back on herd movement to the railways. To facilitate this, the forest department agreed to post a forester in the railway control room at New Jalpaiguri junction or Alipurduar.
However, the forest officials reportedly expressed reservations about provision of funds to enforce all the steps agreed upon, it was learnt.