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Slow rail speed in forests mooted

Jorhat, March 11: The Assam forest department has decided to request NF Railway to briefly stop all trains running to and from Upper Assam districts at Meleng, adjacent to Gibbon wildlife sanctuary off Mariani town in Jorhat district. This will help reduce their speed inside the forest and its adjacent areas.

The forest department hopes that the reduction in speed would prevent trains from hitting wild animals, especially elephants, while passing through the area. Six elephants have died in train-hits since 2010, the last being the death of two jumbos just outside the sanctuary on February 27.

Sources in the forest department said though the speed of trains had been “considerably reduced” (from over 100kmph to about 50kmph) while passing through the sanctuary and its peripheral areas, a further reduction was needed to ensure safety of wild animals.

The forest department has made repeated requests to NF Railway in the past few years to reduce the speed of trains within the sanctuary and its adjacent areas.

The sanctuary is located between Mariani and Nakachari stations, a distance of 11km. The length of rail tracks within the sanctuary is 1.5km.

The herd of jumbos in the sanctuary, whose population has increased to about 40 from 20 in the past nine years, often cross the tracks to move from one area of the sanctuary to another. At times, they also stray out of the forest to nearby villages and tea estates in search of food.

Sources said the train driver had told forest officials after the February 27 accident that he was moving at a low speed — about 50km/hour — but the elephants appeared suddenly before the locomotive and though he blew the horn, the animals did not get time to react.

Mariani range officer D. Medhi told this correspondent that a proposal would be sent to the divisional authorities of NF Railway at Tinsukia in Upper Assam through the authorities of Mariani junction to make a brief stopover at Meleng station, which falls between Mariani and Nakachari stations.

Medhi said he has been in touch with officials of Mariani junction and the proposal would be submitted this week. He said a one or two-minute stop at Meleng station would lead to lowering of train speed to about 20kmph in and just outside the sanctuary which would further ensure the safety of jumbos and other animals.

He said the proposal would also include repeated blowing of horns while passing within the forest and areas adjacent to the sanctuary to warn the animals to clear the tracks.

Jorhat divisional forest officer N.K. Malakar, in his report submitted to Jorhat deputy commissioner Solanki Vishal Vasant on the February 27 tragedy, urged the deputy commissioner to seek further reduction of speed of trains passing within the sanctuary and its adjacent areas with the NF Railway.