The people of Haripur village said the train was running at a high speed when the adult male elephant moved towards the tracks between Madarihat and Shishubari stations.
The elephant, being chased by villagers who were guarding their paddy, was flung 20ft away from the tracks.
Fifty-nine elephants have been mowed down by trains, including the animal killed this morning, since the 163km long stretch between Alipurduar Junction and Siliguri Junction was converted into broad gauge in 2003. Around 90km of the tracks pass through forests in the Dooars.
Ganesh Tigga, a resident of Haripur, said the villagers tried to drive away the animal to save their crops last night. “We were flashing search lights and bursting crackers to drive the elephant out of our area.
The tusker ran towards the train tracks that are close to the village around 2.40am.
“We saw that a goods train (that had started from Siliguri Junction towards Alipurduar) was coming at that time and tried to alert the driver about the presence of the elephant. We waved our search lights to attract the loco pilot’s attention, but the train was moving at a high speed and knocked down the animal,” Tigga said.
Both the tusks of the animal were wrenched out in the impact of the collision. “The animal’s hind was badly injured, which shows the train was coming down at a high speed. We later came to know from foresters that the spot fell in a zone where trains have to move slowly at night,” Tigga said.
However, Sanjib Kishore, the divisional railway manager of Alipurduar, said the stretch where the accident happened was not among the speed restriction corridors where trains cannot run faster than 25kmph at any time of the day. “After every incident, we record the statement of the driver and conduct an inquiry. If any elephant suddenly comes on to the tracks, it is not possible for him (the driver) to stop the train and save the animal,” Kishore said. “Drivers always try to save animals.”
Today, the train stopped at the spot, about 55km from Alipurduar, after the collision and railway traffic was halted on the Alipurduar Junction-Siliguri Junction route for around four hours as officials had to check the tracks to know if they suffered any damage.
Tigga said the villagers had called forest officers on Saturday night as the elephant had entered the village several times. “But no forest guard turned up,” he said.
An FIR against the train driver has been filed at Madarihat police station.