Japan train workers save turtles from grisly death

Railway workers in Nara prefecture in Japan have installed shallow trenches under train tracks so that the creatures would not get killed when crossing the tracks.
Railway workers in Nara prefecture in Japan have installed shallow trenches under train tracks so that the creatures would not get killed when crossing the tracks. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP) - Railway workers in Japan have devised an ingenious scheme to prevent daredevil turtles from meeting a grisly end - and delaying trains - while crossing train tracks.

The slow-moving reptiles in western Nara prefecture were responsible for 13 disruptions to train services between 2002 and 2014 after tumbling into the spaces between rail switches and getting squashed, according to West Japan Railways officials.

So the rail company teamed up with the Suma Aqualife aquarium in Kobe to find a novel solution: installing shallow trenches under the tracks that allow the plodding creatures to cross without getting crushed to death.

"The turtles are basically just going about their daily business and have to cross the lines to get to a pond," a spokesman told AFP on Tuesday (Dec 1). "When the point blades move, unfortunately they get squashed between them and die.

"There are a lot of turtles in the area and they are simply moving from A to B," he added. "But they can cause long delays to operations so we consulted with a turtle specialist to find the best way to help them." Since the ditches - dug close to the deadly points - were completed last month, a total of 10 turtles have been spared a gruesome end, said officials.

Workers now check the trenches regularly for errant reptiles and any found are removed and sent on their merry way, the spokesman added.

While the Nara turtles may lack ambition beyond a quick dip in the pond, other testudines have advanced to positions of symbolic authority in Japan.

A hefty African tortoise called Kotaro, weighing some 40kg, was given the role of station-master of Ibusuki station in the far south, complete with a tiny station-master's hat.

Dogs, cats, rabbits, goats and even penguins have also been promoted to station-master - a largely ambassadorial role in highly automated Japan.