Interview with Marek Stolarski
President of Przedsiębiorstwo Wdrożeniowo Produkcyjne NEEL Sp. z o.o.
The solutions designed by your company, related to railway microprocessor automation, include a protection system preventing collisions of animals with trains. How did you come up with this idea?
Every year more than one thousand railway accidents involving animal species such as deer, wild boar, roe-deer, and moose, take place in Poland. The highest number of such incidents is recorded in north-western, northern and north-eastern voivodeships. Their consequences include measurable financial losses such as train delays, rolling stock damage, and for passenger trains - losses due to the necessity to organise substitute transport and pay compensation to passengers. Our company proposed an interesting and unique solution to this problem, that is, the Animal Deterring Unit.
How does it work?
It is based on the knowledge of wild animal behaviour and on their instinct for survival. Animals are deterred by natural acoustic signals constituting a form of interspecies communication understood practically by all large animals. The sounds imitate a hunting predator. We can say that it is a unique theatre play in the woods. First, the animals can hear, for example, the alerting voice of jaybirds - the forest guardians - and start looking around. Next, they can hear fierce barking of dogs and a “scream” of the victim. Finally, a train appears on the tracks. Thus, we trick the animals for their good since a fast approaching train is situated outside an instinctive, natural evaluation of risk. The alert sequences are emitted about 30-180 seconds before the train appears and lasts until the train passes the units mounted by the tracks. The response of wild animals to these signals is genetically conditioned. They do not get used to such stimuli. The level of the emitted noise is equivalent to natural voices of animals.
Simple means effective …
This method was developed by Professor Simona Kossak, the manager of the Department of Natural Forests of the Forest Research Institute in Białowieża. She played the key role. As an outstanding expert in animal psychology she coordinated our works explaining that for thousands of years animals living in natural conditions have not got accustomed to warnings sent by various species. Therefore, our units generate alerting voices of different birds and animals and several types of dog barking. It really works. Animal deterring units (UOZ), in use from 2004 within the PLK network, make use of the sequences of sounds occurring in nature. The system turns on right before the passage of the train; animals move away from the tracks and wait what will come next. When the train is gone and the units go silent, they resume the activities they had to interrupt. Our method teaches them that the train is a predator.
There must be some opponents of this system…
Well, there are some but - apart from scientific arguments - we can also offer economic justification. The cost of construction of an animal crossing and fencing along the tracks is up to twenty million zlotys. We are not that expensive. Our system for one kilometre of the route costs about PLN 350 thousand.
How does the animal deferring unit perform in practice?
The first route on which the system was successfully installed was the E20 railway route, section Mińsk Mazowiecki-Siedlce. It was where the first performance tests were carried out. To date the employees of the Department of Forests at the Warsaw University of Life Sciences (SGGW) have studied the responses of animals to approaching trains and to acoustic deterring signals. Their opinion reads: The method of acoustic protection of animals using natural sounds makes it possible to maintain the continuity of ecological corridors and migration routes of animals, thus minimising the risk of their collision with trains. And further: (…) deterring unit UOZ-1 must be treated as a technical measure having a very high natural value. Certainly, a fence along the railway line creates a barrier reducing animal migration, which - from the point of view of natural environment protection - is a negative phenomenon.
Is PKP interested in this system?
Currently, in all Poland, more than 1000 animal deterring units are installed on railway line sections with a total length exceeding 70 km. Except line E20, the devices are installed on mainline sections, for example E30, within the area of LCS Węgliniec and Bolesławiec and E65, within the area of LCS Nasielsk, Działdowo, Iława and Malbork. Tests of nearly one hundred animal deterring units are pending on the line Moscow-St. Petersburg-Helsinki. Soon we will be able to offer equipment emitting sounds only when an animal approaches the tracks, instead of sounds during the passage of every train. This creates completely new options for communication between the world of animals and man. It is important that an animal deterring unit can be installed on every railway line as an “overlay” which requires electric power supply only. The units in operation since 2004 have turned out to be highly reliable and resistant to theft and destruction. The design of the housing is very resistant to devastation. It could not be removed by means of a chain attached to a car or tractor. In addition, it is secured against theft by a highly reliable alarm system.