EXPLAINER

Using Sensor Technology to Avoid Elephant–Train Accidents in Bangladesh

Sensor systems will help avoid railroad accidents, particularly elephant-train collisions. Photo credit: ADB.
Sensor systems will help avoid railroad accidents, particularly elephant-train collisions. Photo credit: ADB.

Published: 22 October 2020

Warning systems and other measures will help save lives, protect biodiversity, and reduce rail service disruptions.

Introduction

Sensor technology will help Bangladesh pursue its economic development goals and preserve biodiversity at the same time.

Supported by the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB’s) High-Level Technology Fund (HLT Fund), the Chittagong–Cox’s Bazar Railway Project will introduce the use of sensor systems, such as thermal imaging cameras or seismic sensors, to detect the presence of elephants near the rail tracks to avoid accidents. This technology will help save the lives of both elephants and humans.

The Chittagong–Cox’s Bazar Railway Project will support the construction of a 102-kilometer railway in southeastern Bangladesh and build the capacity of the Bangladesh Railway in implementing projects. By connecting the Cox's Bazar district to Bangladesh's railway network, the project will not only boost the national economy through further development of Cox's Bazar into a major tourist destination but also facilitate access to the Trans-Asia Railway network for the local population and the entry of local products to subregional markets and trade.

Elephant–train accidents in South Asia

According to the International Union for Conversation of Nature (IUCN), the history of conflict between humans and elephants dates back to early civilization primarily because of territorial possession. Today, conflicts arise when harm is done—sometimes not intentional—as the two species try to co-exist.

The Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) is classified as endangered according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the world's most comprehensive information source on the extinction risk of animals, fungi, and plants.

There are only around 40,000 Asian elephants in the world. In Bangladesh, the Forest Department has reported that there are around 300 Asian elephants in the country, and most of them are in Chittagong city and Cox’s Bazar. These elephants are known to migrate from across the border in Myanmar to Cox’s Bazaar and Chittagong and reach the northeast Indian states of Tripura and Mizoram. They are often seen raiding crops or roaming through settlements in the Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar area.

In many countries in South Asia, such as Sri Lanka and India, elephant–train accidents have become a common phenomenon. In North India alone, 163 elephants have died in the past decade after colliding with trains. Some government agencies in these countries have started paying attention to the problem and are allotting resources for constructing ramps and underpasses to protect the elephants and avoid road accidents.

The Chittagong–Cox’s Bazar Railway Project will involve crossing several elephant travel routes. The project is implementing measures to prevent elephant–train accidents. These include:

  1. construction of underpasses, at grade crossings, guide fencing, and the world’s first overpass for elephants;
  2. improvement in the quality of forests and habitat in the protected areas to minimize the need for elephants to raid crops and venture out of the forests;
  3. introduction of a sensor system to detect elephants along the railway; and
  4. training and capacity building of Bangladesh Railway staff on the new sensor system and the importance of biodiversity.

How can sensor technology help?

A case study by Roy and Sukumar found that accidents happen often at night and when elephants try to raid crops. The use of information and communication technology can help solve this problem.

By using sensor technology, the project team aims to have zero elephant–train collision in the area. Aside from helping conserve the rich biodiversity, this will also prevent human deaths or injuries and save costs associated with rail repairs and disruption of services caused by accidents.

Specifically, the project will facilitate pilot testing of sensor systems, such as thermal imaging cameras and seismic sensors, to detect the presence of elephants near the tracks. These sensor systems will alert train drivers to slow down or stop.

The result of the pilot test, lessons learned, and knowledge gained are expected to be shared with relevant agencies in South Asia through ADB’s technical assistance facility, Supporting Innovation and Knowledge Exchange for Transport Projects in South Asia.

What is the High-Level Technology Fund?

Under its Strategy 2030, ADB is mainstreaming the use of advanced technologies by carrying out pilot testing, strengthening project design, emphasizing quality in procurement, and mobilizing subject experts.

The High-Level Technology Fund was established in May 2017 as a multi-donor trust fund in ADB that provides grant financing to encourage more widespread adoption of high-level technologies to address development challenges in member countries. It is currently funded by the Government of Japan.

Following the premise that development impact can be profoundly improved with the right advanced solutions, the fund seeks to promote the integration of high-level technologies and innovative solutions into ADB-financed and administered projects. It also aims to connect technology providers with ADB’s project officers and member countries to explore business opportunities for high-level technology integration.

Resources

Asian Development Bank (ADB). Bangladesh: South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation Chittagong-Cox's Bazar Railway Project, Phase 1 - Tranche 2.

ADB. 2018. Environmental Due Diligence Report: South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation Chittagong-Cox's Bazar Railway Project in Bangladesh, Phase 1, Tranche 2. Manila.

ADB. Regional: Supporting Innovation and Knowledge Exchange for Transport Projects in South Asia.

Bangladesh Forest Department. 2018. Bangladesh Elephant Conservation Action Plan 2018–2027.

Government of India - Ministry of Science and Technology. 2019. AI-based Crop Raiding and Agrobiodiversity Conflict Alert System Using Seismic Sensing.

IUCN. 2011. The Asian Elephants Associated Human–Elephant Conflict in South-Eastern Bangladesh. Bangladesh country office.

M. Roy and R Sukumar. 2017. Railway and Wildlife: A Case Study of Train-Elephant Collisions in Northern West Bengal, India. In L. Borda-de-Água et al, eds. Railway Ecology. Cham: Springer.

N. Dodd. 2019. Impacts of Railways on Elephants: Experience from Bangladesh. Presented during the training on Building Capacity for Conserving and Managing Natural Capital during the Planning and Implementation of Transportation Projects in South Asia held on 15–19 July in Dehradun, India.

Ask the Experts

  • Karma Yangzom
    Principal Environment Specialist, Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department, Asian Development Bank

    Karma has more than 15 years' experience in the field of transport infrastructure ecological impacts management. She started her career in 1998 as a field officer for World Wildlife Fund Bhutan in Bhutan’s Royal Manas National Park. 

  • Lin Lu
    Principal Operations Coordination Specialist, Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department, Asian Development Bank

    Lin is responsible for overall coordination of her department’s activities in catalyzing innovation across sector and thematic areas and across operational and nonoperational departments through the One ADB approach. She is also manager of the High-Level Technology Fund. Lin has led energy projects and technical assistance in Central, West and East Asia. Before ADB, she was business development manager at Hollysys Asia Pacific Ltd. She holds a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Drexel University.

  • Asian Development Bank (ADB)

    The Asian Development Bank is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region. Its main instruments for helping its developing member countries are policy dialogue, loans, equity investments, guarantees, grants, and technical assistance.

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  • Karma Yangzom
    Principal Environment Specialist, Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department, Asian Development Bank

  • Lin Lu
    Principal Operations Coordination Specialist, Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department, Asian Development Bank

  • Asian Development Bank (ADB)