The Mass Transit Railway has blood on its hands. Train command centre staff could have saved a stray dog which accidentally wandered onto the tracks of its East Rail line. Instead, they chose to keep the trains running rather than cause a delay that would have provided enough time for rescuers to get the dog to safety.
The incident has rightly caused outrage. Animal lovers and rights campaigners laid flowers and put up banners at Fanling station where the stray was struck by a train on Wednesday. An online campaign against the rail operator collected thousands of signatures in just a few hours.
MTR staff at Sheung Shui station where the animal first appeared tried all of six minutes to rescue it. This involved lowering a chair - a chair! - to the tracks, perhaps in the hope that the scared dog would sit on it steadily enough so staff could raise it to the passenger platform. The rescue attempt was not only inadequate, but absurd.
Normally, in similar situations, officials in charge of public sites would call animal catchers from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department to help. But according to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the MTR had no "procedures" in place on how to handle stray animals on train tracks. It is, however, under enormous pressure to keep trains running on time.
The operator has been plagued by problems great and small recently, such as a massive cost overrun and delay in the construction of the Hong Kong section of the express rail link to Shenzhen and Guangzhou.
Relentless media focus on its not infrequent system malfunctions leading to train delays has added to the pressure. No doubt command centre staff have been instructed in no uncertain terms by people higher up to make every effort to keep trains running on time. But the unfortunate stray dog was one case where staff would have been more than justified to cause a delay until it was evacuated.
The MTR is still world-class despite all its problems. Alas, showing greater flexibility and humanity would have made it an even better company. It might even have been good public relations.