7 elephants killed by speeding train; environment minister calls on railway authorities to act

NEW DELHI (AP) — India's environment minister pressed railway authorities Friday to ensure the safety of elephants after seven pachyderms were mowed down by a speeding train in eastern India.

The herd was crossing the tracks in Banarhat forest in West Bengal state at midnight Wednesday when the freight train plowed into the animals, killing them all.

"This is not the first time that such a mishap has taken place, although the scale with which it has taken place now is unprecedented," Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said in a statement.

Ramesh said he had previously written letters to the railway minister and met with rail officials to discuss "measures to be taken in order to avoid such tragedies."

Outraged wildlife activists in India said they too complained to railroad authorities many times, asking them to divert trains to other routes or avoid running locomotives through the forests at night.

"The drivers hardly ever adhere to the restrictions," said Animesh Basu, who runs the Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation, a wildlife conservation group.

Scores of wild bison, deer, boars and leopards have died in the same forest after being hit by trains, Basu said.

Dozens of elephants have died in India in recent years after being struck while crossing railway tracks that often run through national parks and forests.

India's wild elephant population was recently estimated at about 26,000.