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Animal welfare tough for MTR

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 August, 2014, 2:46am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 August, 2014, 8:53am

The MTR Corporation has found itself in the doghouse of public opinion from time to time recently for various reasons, from service disruption to cost overruns and delays on major new projects. That attests to high expectations which, ironically, are based on a reputation well earned over the years for efficient, reliable and safe operations.

Angry commuters may make bad enemies, but they do not compare with the instant infamy that had the MTR on the back foot on Friday.

We are, of course, talking about the death of a stray dog on the tracks at Fanling station after train services on the East Rail line were halted and then resumed before the canine could be saved.

By the time the MTR gave its side of the story on Friday, more than 80,000 had signed an online petition expressing anger and dismay. They were prompted by accounts of an attempt to rescue the dog by lowering a chair onto the tracks at Sheung Shui station before it ran down the line to Fanling and MTR control centre said services had to resume.

Admittedly the MTR is under enormous pressure to keep trains running on time. And it is easy to be wise after the event, although the rescue attempt with a chair tests credulity.

A more detailed account of events shows the operator in better light. Station staff jumped down onto the tracks in a bid to rescue the dog, but one was bitten. Station staff at Fanling signalled an incoming train to stop after spotting the dog. After a fruitless search the train was allowed to depart, and shortly after the dog was found dead on the track.

There is no question that the MTR would also have been criticised if it had halted services for half an hour or more while the dog was rescued. But a show of greater compassion and flexibility would have been good public relations.

The rail operator must learn from public outrage about this incident. It is therefore good to see it will seek advice from animal welfare organisations in devising measures that strike a humane balance between protecting animals and maintaining services.

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