Alipurduar: A railway official today said the Jaipur-Kamakhya Kabiguru Express, which mowed down five elephants in the Chapramari forest, was running at 80-100kmph, which is double or more the speed allowed when trains travel through forests.
Trains running through elephant corridors in the Dooars are supposed to travel at 25kmph during the day and at night. In forested areas that are outside elephant corridors, the trains can travel at the maximum speed of 40kmph at all times.
“Our drivers maintain the speed limit and blow the whistle while crossing forests. The incident occurred in a place which is not an elephant crossing zone,” said Benfis Lakra, additional divisional railway manager, Alipurduar, Northeast Frontier Railway, said.
“The train was travelling at 80-100kmph and the driver could not stop without hitting the animals,” he added.
When the train hit the five elephants (not seven as reported yesterday), it was running through the Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary in Jalpaiguri and its speed should not have been more than 40kmph, according to the speed limits set by the railway officials and the forest department jointly in 2010.
Today, a critically-injured pregnant elephant was found near the tracks.
Forest minister Hiten Barman, who went to the site of the accident, said: “Along the Dooars tracks, around 165km-long, there are reserve forests, sanctuaries and even a tiger reserve, covering 60-65 per cent of the length…. The driver did not bother to maintain the speed limit. The train’s speed was at least 80kmph that led to the deaths of five elephants.”
Since 2002, when the railway tracks between Siliguri Junction and Alipurduar were converted to broad gauge, 40 elephants have died in train accidents.
“Our officers inform the railways about elephant movement. It is unfortunate that the railways do not impose the speed restrictions,” said Barman.
Train service on the route was restored around 8am today.
N.C. Bahuguna, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, said: “We have asked the railways to stop running trains on the route from 5pm-6am…. If required, trains can be diverted as we cannot afford to lose elephants.”