Speed Restriction in 168 Km Stretch of North Bengal forest areas not feasible – will hit Ops

Ministry of Railways also rejects plea for construction of elevated tracks over stretch of 168-km in view of tremendous cost.

The Railways informed the Supreme Court on Thursday that it was not possible to have the entire 168 km-stretch of the North Bengal forest areas under speed restriction to prevent elephants from being mowed to death by speeding trains.

This stretch covers parts of Bihar, Assam and West Bengal and it has not only the highest concentration of wild elephants but also the highest mortality of jumbos.

As per the railways statistics, 65 elephants have been hit and killed by trains since 2010, mainly in this region. There were 22 deaths in 2013, the highest in the last three years.

Responding to a PIL filed by journalist Shakti Prasad Nayak, the Railways said that the 168-km long railway alignment between Alipurduar and Siliguri via Hasimara Passes, has already got periodic speed restrictions spread over as much as 95.3 km.

There is a permanent speed restriction of 50 km/hour over 22.4 km in the four reserved sanctuary areas of Buxa, Jaldapara, Chapramari and Mahananda and temporary speed restriction across other sections.

“It is practically not possible to have extended portions of railway tracks to be covered under speed restriction of 50 km per hour since this impairs punctuality of running 19 trains each way, with maintenance blocks and existing speed restrictions,” it said. It added that if speed restriction is imposed on the entire stretch, the number of trains would also be reduced to 9.5 trains each way and night closure of goods train would add to the capacity constraints in this section.

The ministry also rejected the plea for construction of elevated tracks over the stretch of 168-km in view of tremendous cost.

“Construction of elevated tracks over the entire stretch will have huge cost implications (Rs 8,000 crore).

Even the cost of laying elevated corridor in the reserve forest area covering a length of 17.4 km will be exorbitantly high apart from causing continuous disturbances to the wild life for an extended period,” it said.

With regard to suggestion of prohibiting running of goods trains at night, it said the step would affect economy of the north-eastern states and those trains, if stopped at night, would be susceptible to theft as well.

The ministry was responding to the direction given by the Supreme Court on December 10 to ensure that the speed limit of trains was lowered and goods trains were stopped at night while passing through elephant corridors in order to protect pachyderms from getting killed.

In its earlier affidavit, the ministry said that it was working on developing electronic intelligent surveillance system for receiving alerts in the control rooms on an elephant coming near to its tracks as 77 pachyderms died since 2007 after being hit by speeding trains.