The Japanese rail system is world famous for its precision. Trains transport several billion people across the country each year with uncanny precision, rarely deviating from their schedules by more than a few seconds.
Yet even in this utopia of locomotive reliability, trains face an age-old problem for rail transport: animals on the tracks. And with around 20,000 kilometers (12,000 miles) of railroad tracks across Japan, keeping wildlife from the tracks can be a daunting task.
According to Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation and Tourism, trains struck wildlife a record 613 times in 2016, each resulting in delays of at least 30 minutes. On top of that, of course, there is the generally disastrous result for the animals themselves.
There is a risk with animals as small as turtles, which caused at least 13 rail disruptions between 2002 and 2014 in western Nara prefecture alone. But, as MNN’s Matt Hickman reported in 2015, West Japan Railway Co. (JR West) worked with researchers at Suma Aqualife Park in Kobe to develop a simple solution: custom trenches that allow turtles to pass through. safe under the tracks.
Japanese trains must also coexist with larger and more dangerous intruders than turtles. Deer have become particularly troublesome in parts of the country, sometimes appearing to even actively seek out train tracks. Many are probably just trying to move around their habitat in search of food or mates, but deer would also be drawn to lines due to a need for iron in their diet, licking small iron filings left behind by grinding. train wheels. On Tracks.
People have tried a variety of tactics to rid the railroads of deer, ranging from putting up physical barriers and alternative sources of iron, to spreading lion droppings on the tracks. The latter plan was scrapped, both because its scent was too strong to be used in residential areas and because it was easily washed away by rain. The deer repeatedly defied ropes, fences, flashing lights and many other deterrents.
Recently, however, two new tactics have raised hopes of reducing collisions with deer:
Yuji Hikita, an employee of an electricity division of Kintetsu Railway Co., watched a heartbreaking scene in 2015 filmed by surveillance video on Kintetsu’s Osaka Line. A family of deer entered the tracks at night, and one of the three fawns in the back of the group was struck and killed by a train. A deer parent watched the fallen fawn for 40 minutes, according to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.
After seeing this, Hikita racked her brains to find ways to prevent this from happening so often. Collisions with deer have increased for many mountainous railway lines in Kintetsu, reports the Asahi Shimbun, noting that the total rose from 57 in 2004 to 288 in 2015.
“Despite our best efforts to exclude deer, they still get into the tracks,” he thought at the time, as he told the Asahi Shimbun. “Why don’t we have deer crossings? ”
Hikita began to study the deer, finding hoof prints and droppings along both sides of the tracks. He had an idea, and two years later that idea won a 2017 Good Design Award from the Japan Institute of Design Promotion.
An illustration of the ultrasonic deterrent system, with doors open (left) and closed (right). (Image: GDA / JIDP)
It is already in use on part of the Osaka line, where the net rises to 2 meters high (about 6.5 feet) along the tracks, except for the periodic intervals of 20 to 50 meters ( approximately 65 to 165 feet). In these spaces, ultrasonic waves form temporary barriers at the riskiest times of dawn and dusk, but not when trains are offline at night. And since humans can’t hear sound, it’s less disturbing in residential areas than lion dung.
Three of these crossings were built on the Osaka Line in a mountainous area of Tsu, the capital of Mie Prefecture, according to Asahi Shimbun. This section of track suffered 17 deer collisions in fiscal 2015, but only one has been reported since the deer crossings were installed over a year ago.
Kintetsu also added deer crossings on another stretch of the same line in Nara Prefecture, where deer accidents have dropped from 13 in 2016 to two in eight months. “This is a great example of how rail companies can tackle the problem of deer-train collisions from a deer’s perspective,” said a 2017 Good Design Award judge, “and this is due to the countless number of victims sacrificed in accidents “.
The idea still needs to be tested more widely, but it has already attracted the interest of some other railway companies. JR West, for its part, began testing deer crossings on a section of its Sanyo Line in Okayama Prefecture last year, Asahi Shimbun reports.
Sniff and bark
In another inventive approach, researchers at the Railway Technical Research Institute (RTRI) tested trains that sniff like a deer and bark like a dog.
This combination of sounds is proving to be a good way to scare off deer, reports the BBC. First, a three-second explosion of deer snorting noises grabs their attention, followed by a 20-second clip of dog barking, which is apparently enough to scare them away.
RTRI officials say the results have been encouraging so far, with deer sightings down about 45% in sniffing and barking trains. The idea plays on the deer’s natural behavior, which includes “a habit of repeatedly sniffing short, high-pitched sounds to alert other deer when they perceive danger,” according to Asahi Shimbun.
The institute hopes to conduct larger experiments with the system and, if it proves effective, eventually install stationary sniffing and barking devices along the tracks in areas where deer are commonly seen. However, the noises would not be emitted where people’s homes are near the tracks.