Railways to implement AI-based surveillance system on 700-km tracks to prevent elephant deaths

NEW DELHI, Nov 29: An AI-based surveillance system to prevent elephant deaths on railway tracks will be installed on 700 kilometres of route passing through forest areas, Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said on Wednesday.

“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.

According to him, the technology, developed by the railways in collaboration with some start-ups, was introduced on a 150-km stretch in Assam last year and has turned out to be quite useful.

“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.

The total cost of the project implementation on the 700-km tracks will be Rs 181 crore.

Vaishnaw also stated that his officials are in touch with the forest departments to identify more such areas to expand the scope of the project.

Asked if the railways has officially named the system, the minister said, “You can call it ‘Gajraj System’.”

In September 2023, the Northeast Frontier Railway hailed the system and said its introduction in 11 elephant corridors in the Northeast helped eliminate elephant deaths due to train collisions.

The minister, during his interaction with reporters, referred to the introduction of the system in the NFR.

The Intrusion Detection System (IDS) was introduced by the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) in December 2022 in 11 elephant corridors – five in Alipurduar division and six in Lumding division.

According to the NFR, in the eight months between its launch in December 2022 and July this year, the system sounded 9,768 alerts, or an average 41 alerts daily. It  added that since the launch of the system, these 11 corridors have not reported any train-elephant collision.

Every time an elephant steps on to the track, the system generates an alert to the train controller, station master, train drivers and other stakeholders who take precautionary measures to avoid the imminent danger.

Government data shows that on an average 20 elephants die due to train collisions in the country every year and a majority of these incidents take place in the Northeast Frontier Railway.

The success of the IDS holds out hope that such accidents will be a thing of the past, officials said.

They said the optical fiber cable (OFC) that the railways has laid beneath the tracks for tele-communication and signalling purposes comes in handy for the installation of IDS.

The device, fitted in the OFC network, captures the vibration when an elephant comes on the track and sends out a real-time alert to the division control room and a mobile application. The system is able to detect and locate moving elephants up to 5 metres from the fibre optical cable.

The system was the brainchild of then General Manager of NFR Anshul Gupta, who came to know about this technology 13 years ago while he was on a visit to London.

“I experimented it twice, once in 2011 and then in 2016 in different railway divisions but its successful implementation took place only in December 2022 when we launched this project in the 11 corridors,” Gupta, who retired in March 2023, said. (PTI)