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Train mows down four elephants

Bhubaneswar/ Cuttack: Four elephants, including a calf, were killed when a speeding Howrah-Mumbai Mail hit them at an unmanned railway crossing at Bagdihi forest range in Jharsuguda district early on Monday.

The accident, which took place at Teladihi level crossing, killed a tusker, two females and a calf. Divisional railway manager of Chakradharpur Chhatrasal Singh has ordered a probe into the mishap.

The divisional forest officer (DFO), Bamra, Sushant Kumar said: "The Howrah-Mumbai Mail hit the jumbos between 3.45am and 4am when the elephants were crossing the tracks. The carcasses were lying scattered on either sides of the track."

Kumar said though the railway had set a maximum speed bar of 30kmph for the stretch, the driver seemed to have violated it.

A forest official said: "We will conduct a probe and action will be taken against the erring officials."

Forest officials from Jharsuguda and Bagdihi forest range reached the spot and initiated track-clearing operations. An earthmover took four hours to finish the job.

A railway official, however, pointed finger at the forest department for the incident. He said the forest department was supposed to send a memo to the stationmaster or divisional railway manager's office, informing about the movement of elephants.

"When the memo is issued, we impose speed restrictions on trains till another memo stating that the elephant herd has crossed the area reaches us," said an official of South Eastern Railway (SER).

"But this time, there was no such memo. Therefore, we didn't know about the movement of elephants," he said.

He added that drivers had been asked to blow the whistle continuously when trains cross the elephant corridor.

"But, it's not possible to impose speed restrictions round the year for this 30km long elephant corridor, as it will delay movement of trains," he said.

Chief public relations officer of SER Sanjay Ghosh said the Mumbai-bound train was moving at its normal speed when the accident took place. The train hit the jumbos at a speed of 110kmph.

He said the train engine suffered damage and had to be replaced later.

At the same Teladihi level crossing an elephant calf had died on September 28-29 last year when it fell in a trench dug by the railway authorities to lay cables.

Twenty-days later, two more elephants - a mother and her calf - fell into the same trench and had died.

"It is apparent that the forest department and the railway authorities were aware about the existence of an elephant corridor in the area, but did nothing to prevent such deaths," said Wildlife Society of Orissa secretary Biswajit Mohanty.

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