Railway Tracks Continue to be Hazardous Zones for India’s Cattle

The number of ‘cattle-run-over’ cases has skyrocketed from at least 2,000 in 2014-15 to over 30,000 in 2018-19.

New Delhi: More cows, buffaloes and bulls are dying than ever after accidentally wandering onto rail tracks and coming under speeding trains, according to internal Indian Railways data.

Informed sources tell The Wire that the situation has gotten so bad that about 70 to 80 cattle are being hit every day by running trains across the country.

The number of cattle that have come under a moving train has gone up from about 2,000-3,000 in 2014-15 to over 14,000 in 2017-18.

In the fiscal year ending March 2019, it went up to nearly 30,000, a record jump, becoming a cause of deep concern for railway authorities.

Not all cattle incidents on railway tracks result in the death of the bovine creatures. According to railways data, while about 18,900 trains were affected in 2017-18, nearly 43,000 trains were ‘cattle-hit’ in 2018-19.

In the current fiscal, in the April-May 2019 period, about 5,500 ‘cattle run over’ (CRO) cases were recorded on the tracks, affecting over 7,000 trains.   

While the number of general train accidents has been declining over the last few years, the significant jump in CRO cases has become a cause of worry for safe train operations.

Also read: Grazed and Not Confused: Why Not All Livestock Rearing Practices Are Ecologically Unsound

While not every CRO case results in derailment, it affects train operations for a few hours as the track needs to be cleared of the cattle carcass before allowing further movement, a senior railway official with knowledge of the situation told The Wire.

Media stories in the past have also highlighted this problem – an August 2018 report by the Indian Express recorded how there had been a 362% jump in CRO cases from 2015-16 to 2017-2018.

The increase in cow deaths has been chalked up to two major reasons. Firstly, especially in north India, there is an inadequate number of gaushalas for old or abandoned cows. Secondly, because of stricter cattle trading and slaughter laws, there are more old cows roaming around than ever before.

Earlier this year, the newly-launched Vande Bharat Express, also known as Train 18, hit stray cattle and was damaged. The train’s aerodynamic nose, which is made of steel with a fibre cover on it, had to be replaced.

Also read: Modi Government’s Stance on Slaughter Proves It Doesn’t Really Care About Cows

“Cows are roaming in the open because there is no buyer and the promised gaushalas [cow shelters] are not operational. They are also destroying crops. Farmers chase them out of their fields. Railway lines are near fields, and the cattle go to open areas near the railway lines; some, unfortunately, come under a train,” Vinay Kumar, the Uttar Pradesh vice-president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, told The Hindustan Times in April 2019.

According to sources, Indian Railways security personnel and station staff try to sensitise villagers and rural dwellers about the danger of CRO cases and also initiate steps to keep the bovine creatures off the tracks, but this has not helped.

One possible solution is to reduce the amount of rail tracks that are unfenced and run through open fields. The national transporter’s reinforced cement concrete plan – which fences railway tracks – has so far mainly been placed in areas that run through residential and semi-residential zones.

Arun Kumar Das is a senior journalist and can be contacted at akdas2005@gmail.com.