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Low speed to save jumbos

Alipurduar, Jan. 11: The forest department has added five sensitive zones in the Alipurduar junction-Siliguri route to four restricted areas where the maximum speed limit for trains is 50kmph after dusk so that elephants are not run over.

The speed restrictions in the new areas will be imposed from sunset to sunrise from tomorrow. Train timings are expected to change but the railway has to work out the schedule.

Earlier, four stretches covering 17.4km followed the restricted speed limit of 50kmph from 7pm to 5am.

With the addition of the five new areas, 97km will come under the speed restrictions.

The Alipurduar Junction-Siliguri stretch is 163km.

Forest officials have also proposed the construction of elevated tracks at five spots where maximum number of elephant deaths have occurred in recent times. The elevated tracks, which will stand on pillars, will reduce jumbo deaths.

Since 2004, when the tracks on the Alipurduar Junction-Siliguri route were converted to broad gauge, speeding trains have mowed down 35 elephants.

The railway lines on the stretch pass through five forests: Buxa, Jaldapara, Gorumara, Chapramari and Mahananda.

The decision to include the new areas and impose the time restrictions was taken at a co-ordination meeting held at Rajabhatkhaowa today.

Several forest and railway officials were present at the meeting, among them V.K. Sud, conservator of forests, wildlife, north, and R.P. Saini, field director of the Buxa Tiger Reserve.

“After the recent incident in which four elephants died when they were hit by a speeding train, we convened this meeting. We had asked the divisional railway manager, Alipurduar, to reduce the speed of the trains below 50kmph. But he told us that from tomorrow, trains would ply at 50kmph at night in the restricted areas. During the day, the normal speed limit on this route is 100kmph,” Dipak Ghosh, the additional principal chief conservator of forests, said after the meeting today.

“There are five vulnerable areas: Gulma, Chapramari, Jaldapara, Banarhat and a stretch between Damanpur and Rajabhatkhawa where most elephants have died in recent times. We have proposed to construct elevated tracks in these areas. Experts would be invited for a feasibility study,” he added.

Ghosh said the timing (7pm to 5am) was changed to sunset and sunrise as the duration of sunlight varies with the season. “We have told the DRM that the time during which the speed restriction is imposed should be from sunset to sunrise, otherwise there is a problem with the change of seasons,” Ghosh said.

“From tomorrow, trains will ply at 50kmph in 97km out of the 163km stretch between Alipurduar Junction and Siliguri,” he said.