अलीपुर दुअर Alipurduar (APD): The 168-km railway track between New Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar has again proved fatal for the elephants of Dooars.
In the wee hours of Tuesday, a Guwahati-bound special train ferrying Army jawans rammed into two jumbos — a mother and a calf — killing both on the spot. This takes the jumbo death toll on this stretch to 20 since last year. The accident took place between Hasimara and Hamiltongunj near Madhu tea estate around 2am.
A herd of some 20 elephants was crossing the railway tracks which crisscross a traditional elephant corridor. The train was going so fast that the driver could not stop hitting the elephants although he pulled the brakes on seeing the herd.
The carcasses of the calf and its mother remained on the tracks for hours. The train got derailed in the collision and it took 12 hours to put it back on tracks. Meanwhile, train movement remained suspended on the Alipurduar Junction-NJP route. Some trains were diverted to the New Alipurduar-NJP line.
After the accident, conservationists cautioned that not only elephants, even passengers’ lives are at stake.
“The calf ‘s carcass got entangled in the wheels and derailed the train. The same thing had happened when six elephants were crushed by a speeding train on Jaldhaka bridge last year. For the safety of passengers and elephants, train movement on this section should be restricted, especially at night,” said state wildlife advisory board member Animesh Basu.
The railways have ‘closed’ the train’s driver, A Shekhar, and gateman Rajesh Burman. “It was sheer carelessness by the loco driver. It seems he was going faster than the seed limit of 50kmph,” said a senior forest officer.
“Unless there is genuine will on the part of the railways and forest department, it’s not possible to check such incidents. We have been demanding the doubling of the railway track between NJP and New Alipurduar for the last 10 years. But, nothing has been done,” said Basu.
Soon after the accident, senior forest officials rushed to the spot and launched a search to see if any other elephant was hurt. They filed an FIR against the driver.
Thursday’s incident has again put a question on the movement of trains on the railway track connecting NJP with Alipurduar Junction that cuts through the Dooars and Terai passing through numerous tea gardens and forest areas, including the Buxa, Jaldapara, Chapramari, Mahananda and Apalchand.
This track has always proved to be a curse for the rich wildlife of the region. But things worsened once the track was converted into broad gauge from meter gauge in 2003. According to reports, while 26 elephants were killed in this region in train accidents between 1974 and 2003, another 50 were killed in 10 years on the track following the gauge conversion. There are also instances when elephants attacked trains to avenge the deaths of their herd members.
“Most accidents occurred at night when the trains do not halt at Dooars stations. The calves have no idea about train movement and hence they either refuse to leave the tracks or take time to cross it. And, without the calves, the herd can’t move forward. The forest department and railways must act immediately,” said Basu.