Railways to use AI for saving elephants from getting killed on tracks

The Indian Railways is preparing to deploy the “Gajraj system” an Artificial Intelligence-based solution, along a 700-kilometre stretch of railway tracks in forest regions to mitigate elephant deaths. This surveillance system aims to alert loco pilots about the presence of elephants on the tracks.

Government statistics indicate that an average of 20 elephant deaths occur yearly due to train collisions in the country. (Shutterstock/Representative)

When speaking to the media about the initiative on Wednesday, Union railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw was quoted by the news agency PTI as saying, “We have identified forested regions in Assam, West Bengal, Odisha, Kerala, Jharkhand, and parts of Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu that serve as habitats for elephants. The implementation of this AI-driven surveillance system in these areas will effectively notify train drivers in advance about elephants on the tracks.”

Government statistics indicate that an average of 20 elephant deaths occur yearly due to train collisions in the country, with the majority of incidents happening within the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) zone.

According to news agency PTI, the system’s concept was originated from the former General Manager of NFR, Anshul Gupta, who learned about this technology 13 years ago during 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,” mentioned Gupta, who retired in March 2023.

All about the project

The project’s total implementation cost along the 700-kilometre tracks amounts to 181 crore. Vaishnaw mentioned that this railway-developed technology, in collaboration with startups, was initially deployed across a 150-kilometre stretch in Assam last year, proving to be notably effective.

“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,” said Vaishnaw, highlighting the technology’s role in saving numerous elephants.

In September 2023, the Northeast Frontier Railway acclaimed the system’s success, attributing its deployment across 11 elephant corridors in the Northeast to the eradication of elephant fatalities from train collisions.

The Intrusion Detection System (IDS) – that involves sensors that identify the movement of wild animals and alert control offices, station masters, gatemen, and loco pilots – was launched by the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) in December 2022 across 11 elephant corridors – five in the Alipurduar division and six in the Lumding division.

According to the NFR, from its launch in December 2022 until July this year, the system issued 9,768 alerts, averaging 41 alerts daily. Additionally, since the system’s deployment, these 11 corridors have not reported any train-elephant collisions.

How will it work

Whenever an elephant steps onto the track, the system issues alerts to various involved parties, including the train controller, station master, train drivers, and other stakeholders, prompting precautionary actions to prevent potential dangers.

The optical fiber cable (OFC) deployed by the railways for telecommunication and signalling beneath the tracks proves advantageous for the IDS installation.

Embedded within the OFC network, the device captures vibrations caused by elephants on the tracks, transmitting real-time alerts to the division control room and a mobile application. It is capable of detecting and pinpointing moving elephants within a 5-metre radius from the fiber optic cable, the system operates effectively.

(With PTI inputs)

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