Japanese railroad companies are building special lanes at some of their train stations just for slow moving turtles. Although the move seems humane on the surface, it’s more to avoid travel delays caused by the reptiles getting stuck in track switches. Once the switch points begin to move, the turtles unable to respond quickly enough, are crushed by the weight of the switches.
Between 2002 and 2014 there were 13 squashed turtle train disruptions in Nara and Kyoto.
Although the number of these very specific incidents may be few, they were enough to negatively impact the West Japan Railway Company’s (WJRC) reputation for being on time (at least most of the time).
A company spokesperson says, “The turtles are basically just going about their daily business, but when the point blades move, unfortunately they get squashed between them and die. They can cause long delays to operations so we consulted with a turtle specialist to find the best way to help them.”
WJRC partnered with the Suma Aqualife Park to design and build separate U-shaped lanes underneath and alongside existing tracks just for turtle traffic. Already the network of lanes at two railway stations in the Nara prefecture have saved the lives of ten turtles, and kept trains running on time.
As an added precaution, the West Japan Railway Company is monitoring the tunnels monthly. Any turtles found trapped or having a nap during their railway track crossing are sent to the Suma aquarium.
Although the turtle tunnel network may not be extensive enough to save all of Japan’s turtles from the dangers of railway line crossing, at least some of them are safe. And of course, the trains are running on time, at least most of the time.