In a gruesome tragedy, three elephants, two of them pregnant females and a calf, were killed after being struck by a speeding train at Moraghat in West Bengal. One female elephant that was also injured in the accident has been taken to Gorumara for treatment.
The Mahananda Link Express struck the herd, consisting of around 20 elephants, at around 4 am on Thursday morning while they were crossing the track from Moraghat to Reti forest despite the driver of the locomotive applying brakes.
The express train hit the animals near Marghat forest, 385 miles (620km) north of the state capital Calcutta, forest minister Hiten Barman said. The train was reportedly travelling at such a high speed that it mowed through the herd, tossing the bodies of two of the elephants almost 250 metres away from the track, while the boby calf and a female elephant were found on the track.
“We suspect that the Mahananda Express was travelling at a speed well above 50 km per hour permissible for trains passing through this region,” VK Sood, Chief Conservator of Forest, Wild Life (North) was quoted as telling RailNews.
An FIR has been lodged against the train driver at a local police station. Railway authorities are also probing the incident.
According to Sood, since the track in the region, which runs through multiple elephant corridors, was widened in 2004 at least 48 pachyderms have been killed. A PIL is presently in the Kolkata High Court seeking the reduction in the number of train services through this corridor.
However, the railways are maintaining that there was no error on the part of the driver.
“The train was maintaining the prescribed speed limit when the accident happened,” Virendra Kumar, Divisional Railway Manager (Alipurduar) told the RailNews. He added that the driver was unable to stop in time since the elephants appeared suddenly on the track.
The site of the accident, incidentally, is a short distance away from the site of a previous accident in 2010 in which seven elephants were killed after being struck by a train.
Official figures show at least 48 elephants had been killed in West Bengal since 2004, he added.
India is home to around 25,000 elephants. Their numbers are dwindling due to poaching and the destruction of their habitats by humans.