Railways Tap AI to Safeguard Elephants on Tracks


On Wednesday, Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw announced the installation of an AI-based surveillance system along a 700-kilometer railway route passing through forest areas. The system aims to prevent elephant deaths on railway tracks.

“We have identified forest areas in Assam, West Bengal, Odisha, Kerala, Jharkhand and some parts of Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu which are home to elephants. This AI-based surveillance system will be implemented in these areas which can alert loco pilots well in time about the presence of elephants on tracks,”

the minister said.

He mentioned that the railways, in collaboration with several start-ups, developed the technology, and it was successfully implemented on a 150-kilometer stretch in Assam last year. The results have proven to be quite beneficial. “We made some improvements in the system based on our field experience and now it detects the presence of elephants on tracks with 99.5 per cent accuracy,” Vaishnaw said, adding that many elephants have been saved with the help of this technology till now.

Making sure elephants are safe along a 700-kilometer stretch of railway tracks is a big project, and it’s going to cost around Rs 181 crore. The railway minister, Vaishnaw, mentioned that they’re actively talking with the forest departments to figure out more places where this project can be helpful.

When reporters asked about what they’re calling the system, the minister suggested we can name it the ‘Gajraj System.’

In September 2023, the Northeast Frontier Railway shared good news. They said this special system worked really well in 11 places in the Northeast, stopping trains from accidentally hitting elephants. When the minister talked to reporters, he proudly referred to this success story in the Northeast Frontier Railway.

The team in the Northeast started using something called the Intrusion Detection System (IDS) in December 2022. They set it up in 11 places where elephants often cross – five in Alipurduar and six in Lumding.

They shared some impressive numbers. Between December 2022 and July 2023, the system gave a whopping 9,768 alerts. That means it warned about 41 times every single day! And here’s the amazing part: since they started using this system, there have been zero reports of trains accidentally hitting elephants in these 11 places. It’s like the system is working really well to keep the elephants safe.

Whenever an elephant steps onto the railway track, the system gets active and sends out an alert to the train controller, station master, train drivers, and others involved. These alerts help them take quick actions to prevent any danger.

The government’s data reveals a sad fact, on average, 20 elephants lose their lives every year due to train collisions in the country. Most of these incidents happen in the Northeast Frontier Railway. But now, with the success of the Intrusion Detection System (IDS), there’s hope that these accidents will become a thing of the past, according to officials.

Here’s how it works: The railways have laid optical fiber cables (OFC) beneath the tracks for communication and signaling. This OFC comes in handy for setting up the IDS. The device, placed in the OFC network, senses vibrations when an elephant steps onto the track and instantly sends out an alert to the division control room and a mobile application. The system is smart enough to detect and locate moving elephants up to 5 meters from the fiber optic cable.

The person behind this smart system is Anshul Gupta, the former NFR general manager. He first learned about this technology 13 years ago during a visit to London. Though he experimented with it twice in 2011 and 2016 in different railway divisions, the successful implementation finally happened in December 2022 when they launched this project in the 11 corridors. Gupta, who retired in March 2023, must be proud to see his idea making a real difference in saving elephant lives.

Rhe implementation of the Intrusion Detection System (IDS) along a 700-kilometer railway track, aimed at safeguarding elephants from train collisions, marks a significant step in wildlife protection. The active alerts generated by the system, triggered by elephant presence, demonstrate a proactive approach to prevent tragedies. With an estimated cost of Rs 181 crore, the project showcases the commitment of the railway authorities, led by Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, to address a critical issue affecting wildlife, particularly in the Northeast Frontier Railway region. The success of the IDS in preventing train-elephant collisions in 11 corridors brings hope for the mitigation of such accidents nationwide. This innovative system, born from the vision of former NFR general manager Anshul Gupta, underscores the importance of technological solutions in fostering coexistence between railway infrastructure and wildlife, setting a positive precedent for conservation efforts across the country.

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