New Delhi: Cattle on roads are a familiar India story. Now the country’s first semi-bullet train has been halted by cattle. The Commissioner of Railway Safety is demanding that the Indian Railways erect a fence all along the 195-km route of the train, that is to run at 160 kmph between Delhi and Agra, and was scheduled for launch this year. Railway sources estimate that around 100-150 cattle get run over by trains on this busy route every year. But, the Railways argues, this has hardly ever landed them on the horns of a dilemma before.
Globally, fencing of tracks is considered a must only in case of trains clocking upward of 200 kmph, argues Railway Board officials. Fear of cattle being run over, which is not new to Indian Railways, has not held up launch of trains, let alone a showpiece service like the semi-bullet train. Besides, the cost of raising walls or fences along the tracks is prohibitive. While fencing is cheaper, the Railways experience with it is that it gets stolen. Walls would cost between Rs 25 and 40 lakh (depending on the type chosen) per kilometre.
Railway engineers also argue that even if the entire track were to be fenced, nothing would stop cattle — or even humans— from coming on way of the train at level crossings. “Based on inputs from the Commissioner of Railway Safety, we have identified 35 km along the route as potentially vulnerable stretches to erect fences so that cattle do not stray onto the track,”
Railway Board Chairman A K Mital told “we are working on it. I would not like to give a date right now as to when the service will commence.” The Railways has already conducted successful trial runs of the semi-bullet train, reaching the desired speed after engineering solutions on track and rolling stock. It had even decided a fare structure and was working on a time table as it geared up for its low-cost entry to the elusive “semi-bullet train” club.
North Central Railway, where the majority of the train’s route falls, sees around 150 trains get delayed every month thanks to cattle being run over, said a Railway Board source. The route cuts through agricultural fields and village settlements, and the track is neither elevated not fenced. Besides, the Bhopal Shatabdi on this track, on which the new service is modelled, already clocks a top speed of 150 km per hour — without any fencing.