Chakradharpur railway division has requested the divisional forest officer (DFO) of Saranda to allow the speed limit on trains to be lifted on Manoharpur-Posaita and Karampada-Kiriburu sections.
In a letter written on October 12 to divisional forest officer K.K. Tiwary, divisional railway manager of Chakradharpur Rajeev Agarwal requested permission to lift the speed restriction, citing that it delayed train timings.
Slo-mo speeds of 20kmph had been clamped on the stretches in 2006 to save wild elephants crossing tracks from being run over by trains. Normally, trains travel at speeds of 100kmph or 120kmph.
After being on a wait-and-watch mode for six years, Chakradharpur railway division decided to pit punctuality against safety of elephants.
Both sides have arguments in their favour.
Key long-distance (Howrah-Mumbai) passenger trains pass through Manoharpur-Posaita and many goods trains travel on the Karampada-Kiriburu, a mining hub.
At the same time, Saranda forest through which tracks pass has a considerable elephant population. About 150 elephants stay in the forest spread over 850sqkm. It is also true that before the speed limit was clamped, elephant fatalities on tracks did occur.
According to forest department sources, in the 20km-long Manoharpur-Posaita section, a pair of wild elephants was fatally hit by the Pune-Howrah Azad Hind Express in November 2001. In 2004 and 2006, an elephant each was fatally injured by goods trains in the 12km Kiriburu-Karampada section.
After the 2006 accident, forest authorities decided to clamp the speed limit on the twin sections.
DFO Tiwary revealed that since the speed injunction, no elephant mishaps had been reported till date.
“We had earlier tried other solutions between 2001 and 2006,” Tiwary said. “After the twin tusker deaths at Posaita, electric fencing had been erected along Manoharpur-Posaita. This apart, railway staff had been asked to blow the whistle, gangmen told to scan vulnerable areas. But mishaps did not stop till the speed limit was enforced,” he said.
On the other hand, railway authorities maintained the slow pace of trains such as Howrah-Mumbai Geetanjali Express, Pune-Howrah Azad Hind express, Howrah-Titlagarh Ispat Express and Howrah-Ahmedabad Express delayed them and upset subsequent schedules.
K.N. Biswas, senior divisional commercial manager of Chakradharpur division and also its spokesperson, said: “Forest officials would do us a favour if they gave us the nod to lift speed restrictions.”
Saranda DFO said the matter was under consideration.
“We will hold a meeting of senior forest officials soon to sort the matter out. We have information that an elephant was killed on tracks in neighbouring Odisha,” he said.