Cambrian College biologist Joe Hamr described the scene as "gruesome".

A couple of weeks ago, a Canadian National train struck and killed a group of elk in Burwash, south of Sudbury.

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After surveying 13 dead elk killed by a passing train, Cambrian College biologist Joe Hamr says he wants the CN trains to slow down through the elk range, and cut down the white cedar trees along the track, as they are a favourite food source for elk. (CBC)

"We came to witness a total slaughter of elk. There were five animals just in one spot. There were heads right on the tracks that were severed from the bodies," Hamr said.

"There were pregnant females killed, maimed animals that were still alive, so it was a gruesome, gruesome sight."

A total of 13 elk died on a 20 km section of track this winter, and four of them were pregnant, Hamr said.

The incident was reported to the Sudbury Elk Restoration Project — of which Hamr is a member — by people who live in the area.

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Hamr said he suspected heavy snowfall likely enticed the elk to walk on the tracks more frequently than usual.

Herd relocated to Sudbury area

Elk were nearly wiped in Ontario, largely due to over hunting. Sudbury is one of four areas the Ministry of Natural Resources chose for elk relocation projects.

About 200 animals were brought to the Burwash area from Alberta in the late 1990s and early 2000s as part of the Sudbury Elk Restoration Project.

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It’s believed there are currently about 140 animals in the Sudbury herd.

A CN rail line cuts through Burwash, and the trains travel at just over 100 km/h, said Lindsay Fedchyshyn, regional manager of public and government affairs for CN.

Hamr wants CN to cut down cedar trees along the tracks.

"The white cedar is a favorite winter food of elk, so they tend to congregate along these travel routes," he said.

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Hamr also wants the trains to slow down through the elk range.

But that’s not an option, Fedchyshyn said.

"Shipping the nation’s goods, we must move trains through the area safely," she said. "They can't always slow down or stop."

CN tries deterrent

CN is taking part in a pilot project aimed at keeping elk off the tracks. Peg board has been installed between the rails in two small sections of track south of Sudbury.

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The hope is the animals won’t like walking on the porous board, Fedchyshyn said.

"They walk on the peg board and then it causes them to veer away from the track, placing them out of danger of an oncoming train."

The results of the test project are still being evaluated to determine if the peg board should be put down over a wider area, Fedchyshcyn said.

Hamr is not optimistic about the results, however. Only two sections of peg board were laid down, and it would take 20 to make a difference, he said, adding a CN snowplow also destroyed one of the test sections during the winter.