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Speed limit in jumbo zone

Bhubaneswar, Dec. 31: The state government today asked railway officials to limit the speed of trains in areas where elephants were likely to cross tracks.

The government is perturbed over the growing incidents of death of elephants while crossing railway tracks in the state.

“We have requested the railway officials to restrict the speed of trains while passing through elephant corridors,” said state forest minister Bijoyshree Routray after a meeting with officials of East Coast Railway today.

The meeting was convened after six elephants were run over by a speeding Howrah-Chennai Coromandel Express on midnight Saturday near Subalaya railway level crossing in Ganjam district.

In 2012 alone, 11 elephants have been killed in rail accidents in the state. In all, 413 elephants have died for various reasons in the past seven years.

Referring to a meeting convened by the ministry of environment and forests on September 4, 2009, Routray said that it was decided upon to limit the speed of trains in vulnerable areas as a precautionary measure. Trains are expected not to speed beyond 20km per hour in such areas. However, the Coromondal Express was hurtling down at a speed of 110km when the mishap took place on Saturday night.

“Had the guideline been followed, the incident on Saturday night could have been avoided,” he said.

Routray said that following the guidelines, signage had been put up along the railway tracks between Rambha and Humma railway stations in Ganjam district, the stretch that is a part of the elephant corridor, to alert train drivers.

“The speeding train dashed into the elephant herd after crossing the third sign,” he said.

Routray also added that a letter written to the divisional railway manager of Khurda Road division by the Khallikote forest range officer on December 18 was also ignored.

The forest range officer had informed the divisional railway manager that an elephant herd was camping near Dumnagiri and Jhinkira forest to the east of the rail track. “There is possibility of their movement towards NH-5 and then towards the railway line at night,” read the letter that requested the railway authorities to alert train drivers and staff concerned to slow down while passing through the earmarked stretch.

However, divisional railway manager of Khurda Road division Sanjay Mohanty asserted that no guideline was violated by the railway officials.

Khallikote forest range officer Bijay Kumar Hota has registered a case against M. Gandhi, the driver of Coromandel Express, under sections 9 and 51 of the Wildlife Protection Act.

“An inquiry has already started. If any official is found guilty, action will be taken against him,” said the minister.

Chief public relations officer of East Coast Railway Rabi Narayan Mohapatra said it was agreed upon at today’s meeting that the information system would be streamlined.

“The rest of the suggestions of the state government, including the one for speed limit, will be referred to the railway ministry for decision at the apex level,” he said.