Railways to install optical fibre-based system to detect elephant crossing

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Kunki elephant Agastyan made to walk in front of the camera to check the functioning of the thermal camera set up in the forest area of Pannimada near the Kanjikode, Palakkad road to find out if wild elephants are entering the inhabited area.
| Photo Credit: K.K. MUSTAFAH

The Railways will soon install an optical fibre-based intrusion detection system (IDS) along the elephant infested 33-km stretch between Kottekkad and Madukkarai as part of its latest measure to prevent elephant deaths on the tracks.

The Southern Railway is installing the system for the first time after its successful implementation in four divisions of the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR).

Palakkad Divisional Railway Manager Arun Kumar Chaturvedi said that the ₹15.4-crore work would be done on a war footing. “We expect to finish the work by this December,” Mr. Chaturvedi told The Hindu.

According to Railway officials, the project is likely to be costlier as it involves laying of optical fibre cable along both sides of the A and B rail lines between Kottekkad and Madukkarai. In effect, the cable network has to be laid for about 130 km.

The optical fibre network will detect the presence of animals big and small through vibrations, and send real-time alerts to the intrusion monitoring cell, station masters and loco pilots. The signal for different animals will be different. “We will soon calibrate the signals for a variety of animals as well as vehicles. If it’s a deer, the signals will say it. And if it’s a jeep, it will be identified,” said Mr. Chaturvedi.

There will be no cameras for the IDS. It will rather be depending on acoustics and optics. The exact location of the encroaching elephants will be passed to loco pilots and station masters.

Ideally the cable has to be laid about 100 metres wide of the tracks on both sides. However, Railway officials are worried about the lack of enough railway land. “If the fibre is laid close to the tracks, then loco pilots may not get enough time to respond to an alarm.

“Elephants sometimes step on to the tracks out of nowhere. So the farther the cable from the tracks, the better,” said Mr. Chaturvedi. “No system can be 100 per cent foolproof. But we hope to minimise elephant deaths on the tracks. We don’t want any more train-hit elephant deaths,” said Mr. Chaturvedi.

Palakkad Division has constructed two underpasses exclusively for elephant passage between Walayar and Madukkarai by spending ₹11.5 crore. Elephants have started using one, and are studying the other. “They will soon be using the underpass,” said Mr. Chaturvedi. Both the underpasses are in the Tamil Nadu forest area. Railway is also fencing some areas in order to channelise the elephants towards the underpasses.

The DRM said that solar lights were being installed along the elephant infested stretch to offer better night visibility for loco pilots.

According to loco pilots, it is hard to see elephants at night in spite of speed restrictions. Following two back to back train-hit elephant deaths in recent weeks near Kottekkad, Palakkad Railway Division has temporarily reduced the night-time speed limit from 45 kmph to 35 kmph. But the speed reduction is engendering a lot of woes for the Palakkad Railway Division.

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