An animal rights group took SNCF to court following the tragic incident in Paris.
French national rail operator SNCF has been found guilty of negligence for allowing a train to leave when staff knew a pet cat was on the tracks.
The cat was subsequently run over and died.
The incident, which occurred at Montparnasse station in Paris in January, left the animal’s owners in shock.
“It's hard to get over it,” the cat’s owner, Georgia, told 30 Millions d’Amis (30 Million Friends) - the animal rights foundation that took the train operator to court.
What has SNCF been charged with?
A criminal case against SNCF opened on Monday 19 June in Paris, with the rail operator facing the charge of ‘inflicting involuntary harm on a domestic pet’, which carries a potential €450 fine.
However, 30 Millions d’Amis called for the offence to be raised to 'wilfully causing an animal’s death', which carries a far more severe sentence of anything from a €75,000 fine to up to five years’ imprisonment.
On 4 July, the Paris court ultimately fined SNCF €1,000 for 'negligence', concluding that the cat's death had been caused involuntarily.
Animal rights activists staged protests over the incident and an online petition titled Justice for Neko racked up more than 33,000 signatures. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told news channel BMF TV that he was "particularly shocked" by the incident.
How did a pet cat get run over by a Paris train?
Georgia was travelling with her 15-year-old daughter Melaïna in January when their cat Neko escaped from his transport bag. Neko then took refuge under the TGV train waiting at the station.
His owners pleaded with officers to delay the train’s departure, but were reportedly told “that it's not their problem, that it's just a cat and that we should have kept it on a leash.”
Pets are allowed to accompany their owners on SNCF trains either in a carrier or on a leash, provided other passengers do not object. Except for guide dogs, pets must have train tickets, which cost €7.
Another member of staff endeavoured to help the owners, but after 20 minutes of negotiations and attempts to call the cat back to safety, the train reportedly left the station, killing Neko who was still on the tracks.
“I saw Neko run under the train and… then we saw him cut in half. It was so violent,” Melaïna told 30 Millions d’Amis.
The owners were reportedly offered a free ticket to Bordeaux as compensation for their dead pet.
What does SNCF say about the incident?
SNCF claimed that the cat was not visible under the train when it set off and that staff could not be sure whether it was still on the tracks. Only once the train moved did the cat become visible, they added in an email to Euronews Green in January.
The train operator also pointed to the dangers of going down onto the live train tracks, which are electrified.
The train operator said that it “regrets this sad incident” but added that “it is strictly forbidden to go down on the tracks, which would endanger the lives of the two travellers or of our agents... the risks of electrocution are real.”
Going down onto the tracks, or even standing too close to the edge of the platform, also carries risks of collision with a train. "The blast effect related to the speed of passage of trains can even fall down a person standing less than 1.50m from the tracks," SNCF said.
"SNCF is concerned about the animal cause and the safety of pets who travel by train," the operator added. "This is not a situation that leaves us insensitive."